When our kids were little, we used to have heroic Christmases. Grandparents and great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces would begin arriving at our house in the Maryland countryside the week before the holiday. One year we hosted twelve people, ranging from three months to 83 years old, and nine dogs. (About the dogs: two were ours, one was my mother\’s, and one, along with her litter of eight puppies, belonged to my father-in-law.)
But after New Year\’s people would start packing their bags, and eventually my husband would go back to work and the children to school. My faculty position allowed me to choose between teaching a January-term course, or teaching an extra course in the spring. I always chose the latter, so I could be alone in January.
I loved the quiet that would settle around the house once the tree had been taken down and the last reusable bow been put away for next year. Quiet was scarce in my life back then, and I reveled in it. It was a luxury to stay home with the dogs, writing syllabi for the spring semester, uninterrupted except for trips to the goat shed to break the ice in the water bucket.
It was in one such snowy January that I decided to deviate from academic writing, to write stuff that people would actually want to read. My first piece, which I sent to a major glossy magazine, came back with a personalized note rejecting it (I didn\’t realize at the time what an honor that was). But I couldn\’t believe they had rejected my article. What in the world was wrong with it? The logic was flawless, the phrasing elegant, the punctuation and spelling correct. Why didn\’t they want to publish it?
I later realized that it was all wrong, of course. It was academic in tone, full of obscure allusions. The sentences were too long, the words too latinate. Today, although I smile at the earnestness of the piece, I\’m proud of the idea behind it: it was a diatribe against the obligation parents feel to expose their children to too many enriching activities—sports, music, arts—so that in the end all that is left is a schedule, and not much of a child.
Yesterday, the daughters whose departure for elementary school used to make for such quiet in my life departed with their loved ones for their respective cities, lives, responsibilities, professions. And once again the January quiet has descended. We stripped the Christmas tree today, my husband and I, and carried it to the edge of the woods to end its days as a shelter for the birds. We draped the cranberry garland over the bird feeder to offer the chickadees some Vitamin C. We recycled the bows and ribbons. We washed the sheets and towels. And now what?
Now comes the silent time, the meditative, the creative time. Now is the time to imagine, to conceive, to bring forth. It is a short time. Even in the frozen North, already the sun lingers longer in the afternoon. The hens notice this, and lay more frequently than they did in November.
“When the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen,” Pa said in “Little House in the Prairie.” And it will get colder–but not darker. Before we know it, the world will turn to mud, and we\’ll hear the chickadees\’ courting song. And the craziness of spring will be upon us.
So let\’s not waste January.
I\’m reading \”The Long Winter\” to my girls right now–we\’re about 2/3 the way through and I forgot how gripping it is…but otherwise, I am where you are, if in an urban midwestern version. Christmas is put away this evening and I have 15 days or so before baby comes to bring several other things to fruition…
Yes, let\’s not waste it! (Although today I may be out begging for work…pesky money thing.)If I get a tree next year, can I bring it to your woods when we\’re done?Tim, after getting the car out this morning, came in to warn me of the ice. Maybe I won\’t go to the gym early. I fell in the gym parking lot on Friday.It would appear that I am using blog comments for email. Time to get January quiet.
ah yes. time and silence. you\’re singing my song, lali. one of my panics about not making my deadline was the realization that spring is not that far off…. and that hunkering down and writing for hours will be much more difficult when the birds are singing and the crocuses are blooming.now is the time for good, steady work.
ps i\’m enjoying indigo\’s email to you. icy here, too.
Bridgett, The Long Winter is a masterpiece! It has stayed with me all these years since I read it to my daughters. I think I\’ll read it again.What an exciting time this must be for you….
Indigo,Yes, please bring your tree to our woods next year. The birds will perch on it between dashes to the feeder.Falling on the way to the fitness center–bit of a paradox, no? Hope you weren\’t hurt.
Laurie,You\’ve got me thinking about writing and time and priorities. Thanks for the nudge.
Lali: Luckily, I fell on my way out, AFTER the workout! Big bruise, that\’s it…
Another former Marylander here. We used to put our tree out in the backyard, stock it with peanut butter-filled pinecones, and just watch the sparrows and cardinals take refuge from the snow in its branches. We were partial to white pine, which seemed to hold its needles for much longer than other trees. The trash collectors would rarely get our tree until the spring thaw, so I\’m sure they thought we were terribly lazy people who never bothered to remove it from the family room for months and months.
Craig, there\’s no end to the uses for old Christmas trees. The one from two years ago is sitting in our backyard right now, transformed into a dog toy. Wolfie dragged it out of the woods, chewed off all the branches, and now carries the trunk around like some sort of prize.