One by one the festive lights in my neighborhood come down and winter darkness prevails. Christmas trees that stood as crowning glories in living rooms and upstairs windows now sleep on the forlorn, dark and uncelebrated curbs of our houses.
It is such a sharp contrast to the lovely poem by e.e.cummings: “… put up your little arms and I’ll give them all to you to hold … every finger shall have its ring and there won’t be a single place dark or unhappy …” when we began our festive rituals.
The cold of January days will be more profound as in the words of my long-ago grandmother, “When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen.”
I, for one, will leave my lovely blue lights strung out into the winter’s cold and dark. Perhaps it will be a light for the traveler or just lights for my soul. My own Christmas tree will be hauled out back to set among the bird feeders for shelter during the upcoming storms or to keep the winter birds safe from my cat, Harley.
January, when we were kids, meant skating on ponds or lakes or at McMillen Park in Fort Wayne on the ice skating rink until we were frozen or until parents wanted us home. Even in the winter, the outside was our playground. I still feel like that. I try to get the work done so I can go outside to play whether it be to pick up sticks from the storm or sit by the fire watching the lights come on inside the homes of my neighbors and the winter stars come out.
The other night I was having a conversation with someone about the beauty of the winter stars. Why are they so bright during the winter months, I wondered. I checked into a couple of my favorite sources to find the answers for this question. According to Professor Astronomy’s blog (always resourceful) he feels the skies are less murky with humidity during the winter, making the stars brighter. He also said folks spend more time in darkness, thereby noticing the sky! I liked his reasoning, although Professor Astronomy wasn’t very scientific, so I went to my next source EarthSky.org. Those folks over there know what they are talking about. Let me try to explain to you what I learned: During the summer months the Earth faces the Milky Way, giving us views of so many stars that they are often individually indistinct. During the winter months we face toward the “outskirts of the Milky Way” making the viewing fields of the masses of stars less, so the few are more distinct. So, now we know.
One of the most spectacular of all winter constellations is Orion, which is mentioned in “The Odyssey.” Orion chases another constellation, the great bull Taurus. There is an ancient Scottish saying that folks have been known to say on the first of January, “On New Year’s Day, the bull rises with the twilight and crosses the sky.”
January is named after Janus, the Roman god of portals, seeking endings and beginnings. In fact, sketches of Janus shows a two-headed man … one looking forward and one looking back. January is the true beginning of winter with our hopes for white landscape and detouring the wolves circling our village. (We may not have wolves circling, but lately I have heard stories of the coyotes creeping into town.)
This New Year also brings thankfulness to you, my readers, for bringing me into your homes on Saturday mornings. I love talking with you during the week about the column or life in general. I do appreciate all of our conversations. Thank you.
So, as we go forth into this New Year, there are resolutions to be made and then be lost. (I have my own! Will I ever lose those 10 pounds?) But there are also stars to watch, winter campfires to sit around, hikes to be taken, musical instruments to be played and conversations to take place while the candles drip upon the dawn of morning.
And if that isn’t enough, there is always poetry to get us through the dark nights. There is always poetry.
Percy Bysshe Shelley once wrote:
The cold earth slept below;
Above the cold sky shone;
And all around,
With a chilling sound,
From caves of ice and fields of snow
The breath of night like death did flow
Beneath the sinking moon.
Happy New Year!