GUEST COLUMN: Letter from Dogwood

It’s a wind-down month … winding down from six weeks of holidays and feasts, and an excess of sports and salty, fattening snacks. There’s not a great deal to look forward to in January except returning useless gifts or a White Sale at Macy’s or sudden and total isolation from the extended family, and that can be a good thing. There are useful things that need doing: last-minute yardwork, perhaps, or work on taxes, thank-you’s to be written.

I’m retired, so I can enjoy much of January. I throw a log onto the fire and read. I quietly meditate. I write. I sleep. I make a resolution and break it immediately and forget it, so I can go on with my life unencumbered by the weight of hasty pledges or guilt. It’s good to travel light.

Much of the month, I stay inside and look out at the cold. In this part of the world, January has always been the coldest month. It was the Arctic month my parents recalled when vinegar froze in their pantry. My childhood work was outdoors, at the frigid sawmill or barn. The stock pond froze solid enough for skating, and chopping ice so the livestock could drink was a daily chore. 

More recently, I remember the time that newly-formed Lake Anna froze so thoroughly that brave souls drove their Broncos onto twelve inches of ice, and others slid out there in their johnboats to rescue stranded deer. We were living in Charlottesville at the time, and we had so many sub-32-degree days that the city feared the buried water mains would freeze.

Climate change is real and it’s warmer now, and we can hardly find a frozen pond. My fig tree has lived two straight winters, and my rosemary likewise. I look at my woodpile and foresee I’ll have a modicum of leftover logs for next fall. If I cut a nick in almost any tree, I’ll find the first slow trickle of sap and recall that it’s not long to the Highland County Maple Festival. 

No, things out there beneath the scanty rime are growing and soon I’ll see the green tops and white blooms of the plentiful snowdrops I plant everywhere – hearty little things that flourish even in Scotland where they have Snowdrop Festivals about this time of year. Truly, January is a cusp month. The December solstice is behind us, days are lengthening, and Valentine’s is not far off.  It’s a time to remember the month’s name comes from the old Roman god Janus, god of doorways, who had two faces so he could look forward and backward at the same time. Right now, that seems like a lot of work, so I think I’ll take a nap.

David Black lives in Louisa County.

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