2009 is playing out the string. Days can be counted on two hands now. The usual newsy threads are making the rounds on the grapevine: people being ‘let go’ due to year-end budgetary restrictions; changes in insurance coverage… time to re-think that dental work; what is your new year’s resolution? (I feel my belly and nod my head); perhaps we should go in on a snow blower with the neighbors this year…
We’ve passed the latest sunrise and, just now, we’ve passed the longest night of the year. So now life is like a rope that we hang on, lowered for hours into a dark hole each day, looking back up at the smear of light. On cloudy days, the sun’s just barely an after-thought on the southern horizon. All day long (on sunny days) we have long long shadows… but at least shadows are something, the hope of June, when the sundial’s shadow shortens. Black hooded snow birds kick and scratch for disturbed seeds on the ice. Finches and chickadees flock to feeders, grasping black sunflower to hammer for their meals. Nuthatches hang impossibly upside-down, snacking on suet. Crows, always socializing and criticizing, hop like outfielders in the street, cleaning the bones, cocking their heads sideways, waiting for the neighbor lady to spill her junk on the walk. Squirrels assess the squirrel-proof feeder, and attempt another assault. The cat sits tight on the brick sill, watching it all like a movie, too cold to bother with wildlife – there’s plenty of warm food inside. And then the mail-order vitamin man comes, on his way to the coffee shop again, wearing just a sweatshirt and moccasins. Spring can’t come soon enough.
At night, the quiet and star-filled black comes upon us like glass. The Ursa spins over the north pole while Orion rises high in the southwest sky. A bright spot streaks across the sky, space-station filled with hopeful cosmonauts. What do they see? Are we cold or just black down here? From off, an owl cooks for you and the weak scree of the hawk. Somewhere near, as silent as the wind that doesn’t blow, coyotes adjust to the city. Perhaps they sit at night in the street and watch the ‘movie’ inside our house.
In our house, we aren’t sure. People come and go. thoughts drain slowly from a leaky faucet in my brain. I guess I’ve lost it somewhere in the post-solstice dark. A wee dark voice asks ‘what is happiness? I seem to know what sadness is… or at least melancholy. It’s an old song that transports me – always back – on a string to that time. A time when an empty notebook and an empty table with pens and pencils was enough to make me shiver with possibility. The sound of chords and words rang out the window on a cool breeze. I had to tell someone, so I let the words go. But now they cloister deep in this gray place, this crack between seasons, this time after solstice, when lines and letters are afraid to show their faces. Afraid of what they might say? We all know what will happen if they don’t get it out – like an old man who stops urinating: he dies soon enough. So I’ll get out the paper, like the icy-black pavement, and scratch, scratch, scratch, and hope that some birds above have kicked some seeds off the feeder for me.
We crack half-hearted smiles, and bottles of strong ale and soldier on. We’ll light a few candles and look into the eyes of youth for that shot of love, that love of life. We’ve given so much. We must remember to receive as well. Take a little of the moonlight off the frozen lake, the diluted sun from the snow, the birdsong from the leafless trees, the simmering soup, and save it for January and February and March. This is the time to be inside. This is not the end – just the end of the year, when fish and worms and bears hunker down, slow way, way down, when life slows to a crawl – one… heart…. beat… every… minute. But as long it beats, as long as the eye is open even a sliver, we can see that time is not ending at all. It’s really coming at us… just very slowly.