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.