Winter’s Gifts

A Paean to the pleausure of January

By Terri Kirby Erickson

“Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour.”   — John Boswell

Iíve heard people say that January is a dreary month. After all, Christmas has come and gone, and what few decorations remain in our yards and homes look a little tired and forlorn. The New Year’s Eve toasts have all been made, the midnight confetti swept away. And in cities and towns across the country, merchants are already stocking their shelves with heart-shaped boxes of candy in preparation for Valentine’s Day.

Of course, we do have New Year’s Day with its special “good luck” cuisine.  Here in the South, we traditionally serve some kind of pork, collard greens, black-eyed peas and cornbread. Then comes several hours of lounging in front of our television screens, trying to digest it all and making New Year’s resolutions we’ll probably break on January 2, if not before.

After that, however, the cold winter days stretch before us without much in the way of celebrations and traditions to warm them up, at least until the third Monday of the month when we honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

But the beauty of our natural world, available to us winter, spring, summer and fall, is something we can savor every day of the year. And it doesn’t require a national holiday or any focused celebration for us to enjoy it. In fact, even in the “dead” of winter, wonders await us at every turn, from frost that frills the hard ground like lace, to the ever-changing and seemingly endless sky, cloudy or clear.

And although the emerald green of summer leaves, or trees painted fiery red and butterscotch yellow by autumn’s brush are magnificent to behold, bare branches offer us a much clearer view of the cardinals, mockingbirds, bluebirds, waxwings, woodpeckers and the occasional hermit thrush that briefly land upon them.

Red-shouldered hawks often spend a few moments resting on the hightest limbs of our tallest backyard oaks. And when they lift their feathered bodies into the chill air, a ray of sunlight can turn their outstretched wings to glistening gold.

Meanwhile, back on the ground, scattered herds of shy deer forage for food, groundhogs trundle from one end of our yard to the other and greedy squirrels scamper from feeder to feeder when they aren’t chasing each other around, flicking their furry tails and chattering like teenagers with their friends at the mall.

As to “wintry” weather, a forecast of snow can be a great bother what with salting and perhaps plowing the roads, potential power outages and slippery sidewalks. But I have to admit, I love snow. When those fluffy flakes begin to fall from an ever-purpling sky, I feel exactly the way I felt when I was 5 years old. It seemed to me, then as now, that when it snows anywhere, the whole world grows hushed and silent as if we’re in the presence of something sacred.

Perhaps what I love most about January and every winter month, is how the windows of houses in our neighborhood light up on late afternoons as the sun slowly sinks below the horizon, making way for the moon as well as billions of icy stars. I like to imagine the people inside, everyone safe and warm — how their faces glow as they switch on the lamps, one by one. 

I picture families talking and laughing throughout chilly winter evenings, our more solitary neighbors reading good books, listening to music or planning the next day’s outing with someone they love. At our house, my husband likes to “play” on his laptop while I read mysteries by favorite authors, such as Anne Perry and Elizabeth George.

Call me an idealist, a romantic — but it hurts no one for me to go on believing that most people are caring and good, the world in which we live,
a magical place.

It’s all in how we look at things. What some would call “dreary,” I consider a backdrop against which, any minute, light will shine. I look at bare trees and refuse to lament the loss of their leaves, choosing instead to focus on birds more colorful and vibrant than the brightest foliage. I walk on frosted ground and relish the crunch of my heavy boots against the frozen grass. I watch snowflakes fall and think of how a fresh blanket of snow makes everything look new again.

So, don’t wait for spring to be happy. Be happy now! Put on a coat, gloves and scarf. Take a walk. Visit a friend. Listen to the quiet of a cold winter’s day in the country, or in the hustle and bustle of a city, the sound of cars rushing by, high heeled shoes clicking along a crowded crosswalk. Live your life, whatever the season. Treasure “every idle hour,” each golden moment gathered.  OH

Terri Kirby Erickson is the award-winning author of five collections of poetry, including Becoming the Blue Heron (Press 53, March, 2017)

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