January hymn


Against all odds, after nearly half a century, I’ve come around to understanding January.

I know, some of you are thinking it took me long enough.

Now that the deepest and darkest of the winter has passed (though the coldest certainly hasn’t), and the observances, rituals and remembrances that must be paid have been paid, my pockets are empty and the land everywhere is draped in white, a table set in quiet anticipation of a celebration to come.

I don’t yet have a mind of winter, but I’ve stopped railing against it (at least this week) and am seeing it for what it is: a pause, an inhale, a still point.

I’m sure I’ve come to this place before, and will again, but today it seems fresh to me, this peace with January. This appreciation of the way the snow sparkles when sunlight strikes the crystals. This feeling that I’m allowed to waste a day reading or thinking or putting words into lines and no one but the animals will expect me to be responsible. This knowledge that the green ground is quietly waiting beneath the snow and ice, that spring is there, truly a coil, that will burst up given half a chance. If only I can be patient.

When my sister and I were little, we played endlessly with a set of wooden blocks, a handful of matchbox cars, and a collection of cheap plastic animals. One of our favorite, recurring games was to build a village for the animals from the blocks. Small houses, neat yards. Horses, cows, sheep, tigers, kittens, an alligator, Indian and African elephants. They all lived in this village. The town plan changed every time we built, but there was always one constant: a “church” with a steeple and an archway for a door. After we’d spent the afternoon building and arranging it all, we’d put the animals in their proper homes, put a lit flashlight in the church and turn off the overhead lights.

There it was. The town sleeping in the glow of the church. All that afternoon of building came to this: nightfall, quiet, and a soft glow.

March through December is raucous. Things are busy sprouting, then growing, then dying, then being cleared away. Plans are made and enacted. And then comes the night and the cold and everything is quiet and suffused by the glow we can’t even see, until January brings it back to us, minute by minute.

Today we have snow and ice, frost and fog. The people who plow our driveway have been by with the sander so we can escape the house if we want, but today (and today only) I have no want. I have everything I need. Everything I (or Dorothy Gale) ever desired is right here now.

Blueberry branches


Edge of the first field

Heading home




In flight

Blue dawn

Dark sunrise

I woke this morning to the dark.

“Woke” is a bit inaccurate, since it felt like I was awake more than asleep last night. Thinking. Those thoughts.

Five years since my mother died. Five years since that dreadful phone call from my father. Five years since I let that howl escape my throat.

In many ways, I feel that span of time as a whirl, the way a lot of us feel time: was that last week, last year, or ten years ago?

Tree, cloud, moon, star

But in other ways, I feel each minute. Each lost minute. I get a little weepy. And angry.

I see a gray-haired woman pushing her shopping cart at the grocery store and I wonder what she would have been like at 70, or 80, or even beyond.

I read about a friend going holiday shopping with her mother, or taking her mother out to lunch on her birthday, and I feel resentful.

I read a book she would have loved and know I just have to send it to her, and I feel surprised when I realize that I can’t.

I see women with their granddaughters, and I feel a longing.

Don’t even talk to me about Mother’s Day.

At 42, I was just learning to be a mother, and finally getting to know my own. We weren’t close when I was growing up. We didn’t have the typical mother-daughter relationship. That only began to grow later, when I was out of college and on my own. We crept closer over the years. We were just starting to figure it out.

I feel cheated.

If I let myself, I can travel quite far down that twisty bumpy road. But it’s a dead end.

I had, and have, a lot more than many people.

Who escapes this life without loss and grief? Is there anyone who doesn’t feel a bit cheated, at least in some way?

I got up this morning and it was dark, and then I saw that crescent moon hiding behind the maple branches.

Striped crescent

I went outside in the dark, no jacket, no socks, no gloves. My fingers were numbing and I was clicking the shutter button over and over, trying to steady myself, trying not to breathe.


There’s that moon. She’s gorgeous as ever. She’s out there in the dark, dark night, and in the bluing morning. She’s there, whirling in space by our side, even during the daylight when we can’t see her. She’s there when we search her out, round and full, slim and crescent, new and invisible, tugging at the water in us, making waves.

It’s going to be okay. It’s good to note these anniversaries. It’s good to cry, and then laugh. It’s good to feel loss when it means you’ve had something to lose.

It’s good to go out in the morning, breathe the cold air, be alive, and be part of the dawn.