my green vermont

Subscribe For My Latest Posts:

The Joys of January

Welcome to My Green Vermont - A Blog by Eulalia Benejam Cobb.
By Eulalia Benejam Cobb

When my children were small, we used to host Christmas. For a week or two every December, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, and their dogs gathered under our roof. One notorious year there were twelve people and nine dogs in the house. The dogs included, in addition to our two, my mother’s Lhasa Apso and my father in law’s tiny nondescript mother dog and her litter of newborn puppies, whom he hadn’t had the heart to leave in a kennel. The days were an endless round of meals and games and laundry and more meals, and wondering when our wonky well would run dry, which it did periodically, forcing the twelve of us to be as conservative about water as a tribe of nomads wandering in the desert.

And then it was over. The guests and their canine companions would depart, my husband would go back to work and the girls to school. And once the last batch of sheets had  been washed and dried and the wrapping paper thrown out (this was the seventies, before we felt compelled to save the planet by hoarding every scrap of reusable paper), I was left in solitary splendor. It was cold outside—in those days, we often had snow in northern Maryland. The garden was taking a break until spring, and my only outdoor duty was to feed and water the hens and the two goats, who were pregnant and so didn’t need to be milked. The dogs, emotionally spent by the celebratory chaos, snoozed all day in front of the fire. And until school let out in the afternoon I was free to write and read, and stare out the window.

I didn’t get a lot of staring-out-the-window time back then, which is why I was so devoted to January. The college where I taught gave me the option of teaching an extra course in the spring in exchange for a class-free January, and I always took it. During those thirty days I would, like a bear fattening up for the winter, accumulate the energies that would see me through the spring semester, the birth of the goat kids, the start of the gardening season, and even the following Christmas.

Those heroic Christmases are long gone, and the demands of life, which once felt like a tsunami threatening to drown  me, now merely lap gently about my ankles. The desperate trips to the mall, squeezed in between two classes, to find gifts for everyone have been replaced by leisurely pointing and clicking at the computer. Having passed the turkey baster to the next generation, my husband and I are now guests instead of hosts, fed and feted and forbidden to exert ourselves.

Yet I still love January. The December commercial frenzy takes a momentary pause before gearing up for the hearts-and-flowers excesses of February. The days are already a few minutes longer, and the sunlight (when there is sunlight) reflected off the snow makes it so bright that the lavender that I’m trying to winter indoors has put out a couple of hopeful new shoots.  The winter birds only come to the feeders morning and evening, and keep themselves to themselves the rest of the time. If it weren’t for the crows and the occasional chickadee, the silence would be total. But the squirrels are out in force. It’s their mating season, and from dawn to dusk they chase each other, spiraling up and down the tree trunks, oblivious to the cold and having orgies in the canopy. Otherwise, it’s a quiet, empty time, both outdoors and in—a time for staring blankly out the window, and for looking inward as well.




10 Responses

  1. I enjoyed this piece very much,, Eulalia….as I sit and look out the window here in MD with yesterday’s lovely 5 inches of snow covering everything (the first in 2+ years!). I can still identify with the hordes descending and many community obligations–the turkey baster has not been passed in this family yet! Let’s zoom.

  2. the children used to say, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all lived together here all year?” On the brink of collapse, I would hear the hope in their voices. Also, I would be embarrassed at the number of gifts as I looked around Christmas Eve and take the ones I had bought back up in the attic.

  3. why does ‘wistful’ come to mind as I read this? I’ve only ever had one all family celebration in all my time in this country, and even then my son was missing. It was my youngest daughter’s wedding a few years ago, and everyone from my side of the family that came, stayed at my house. How I loved it, and what great memories! But despite my Christmases and New Years these days being ‘ just another day’, i still treasure the silence of January. Much as I am tired of cold, snow and ice, I love days when I can be snowbound. thank you for reminding me of January’s beauty and purpose.

    1. I would say that my enjoyment of those family gatherings was well matched by the relief when they were over, and of course there is wistfulness in the memories. There are no unmixed blessings in this life!

  4. January is ending today. It can go – it has been extremely stressful.

    I want to do my writing, but some paperwork tasks way beyond my comfortable level of participation were not getting done, and I had to stamp my little foot, and take many of them over. I’m even more exhausted than usual.

    I don’t need a repeat soon.

    Hope yours was better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *