Friday, January 4, 2013

Cold and colder

There is a lot to love about early January.
And even those parts not so easy to love seem to summon respect.

Yesterday morning's run was as cold a run as I've experienced in years. My legs under my running pants were freezing. My fingers inside my gloves were freezing. My face was freezing unless I tucked it inside my scarf, in which case it was hard to breathe.

Frigid temperatures while running may not be my favorite part of winter, but they are a part I respect. January should be cold. It's the shortest (almost) and darkest (almost) part of the year, with none of the institutionalized cheer of December and none of the prospect for thaw of February. It's the heart of winter.

And paradoxically, it feels like a heart. It feels like within the chilly, still, nighttime air, buried under the snow, suspended inside the icicles, lies the promise of something wonderful. The promise of nature cycling along. The promise of a long darkening autumn leading to a frigid winter which in turn will lead to a spring thaw.

Of course, in New England the seasons don't progress quite that methodically, especially in the 21st century. Frigid days often break for a sudden unseasonable melting. Just yesterday, my son was recalling two years ago when he went running in a t-shirt on a seventy-degree January day over a slick of ice -- a conflation of weather circumstances that made running simultaneously delightful (becauase of the warmth) and wildly treacherous (because of the melting ice).

My feeling is that if it's winter, there should be snow, and this year there is. After a nearly barren season last winter, we have about six inches of powder on the ground already. On New Year's Day I took the kids sledding, and the conditions were better than I've seen them in years: packed powder without a drop of melting going on. Eventually, I found it too cold to stay outside and ended up warming up in the car for the last thirty minutes of their 90-minute sledding session, but I was happy to see that they were more stalwart than I was and stayed out as long as they could to enjoy a great afternoon of sledding.

So yes: the weather is cold and bleak and still. But shouldn't January be that way? The merriment of December is behind us; the promise of spring still lies far ahead. It's time for in-gathering: taking in the stillness and letting it permeate our souls, until all is still and quiet, at least for a moment or two. 

Let the rest of the year teem with activity and action: vacation fun in the summer, busy schedules in the fall, baseball and walks and hikes in the spring. WInter commands stillness, at least for some of the time. As the days stay dark and cold, all is quiet, at least once in a while. And it seems important to honor that stillness, and the cold, and the quiet, as this brief time of year rolls around once again.

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