My hard-won immunity to the religious (and commercial aspects (and musical (if you call secular Christmas jingles like "Rudolf"* music))) of Christmas is almost complete; my gifts to myself will be uploading some software and cleaning my kitchen, because order is easier, and more pleasant, to work in than chaos; right now, the only part of my home that isn't chaotic is my many-roomed online mansion. But time has pressed.
[Whoops, before I forget, ever since Izvestia broke James Risen's warrantless surveillance story on December 21, 2005, I've been careful to check the Times over Christmas for their annual version of the 5:00 Horror, so let me go do that now... Nope. Nada. Not at Pravda, either. It's not that there are no stories to break (for example), so perhaps it's that there are no more stories that are breakable...]
However, it's a crinklingly chilly, silver-twigged, clear blue day today, and all the snow is still clean, so I'd would like to comment on the season, because for years I've missed the obvious thing. And then perhaps a bit on Christmas morning.
Zone 5b is to the north, and, micro-climates being equal, the earth's tilted axis means that we've always had a "real winter" (and a real summer, too, though an all-to-short one). This winter, and last winter too -- no doubt to the chagrin of the oil speculators at Golden Sacks, since Maine has more homes heated by oil than any other state -- all the real winter has been "down south": Portland, and below. Heck, Atlanta and DC (bless their hearts). Up here, it's been pretty warm; the earth was workable until two or three weeks ago. It's almost like there's some.... force... in the Gulf of Maine that's pushing all the cold weather South... Like a great mass of water that's a bit warmer than usual.... Or random fluctuation. Weather, not climate. Who knows?
Snow outlines the clarity of my garden paths and beds, and doesn't obscure them; but there's not enough to cover the ground, not nearly enough; when I was a kid, snow up to the windowsills of the kitchen was the norm. Not drifts. Before shoveling. Now I look out, and I see the dark leaves I didn't manage to rake poking up through the cover, already trying to rot. When I walked over the bridge by the dam last night, the water was dark with wood fiber and fluid, but the melt was w-a-a-a-y down from two days ago, when great slabs of ice crackled down from the north, not sticking, not trying to pack themselves three miles deep, but rushing and jostling downstream, out to the North Atlantic. Now, nothing. Gone.
I've always identified winter with the coming of snow. Winter begins in November, with the first storm and snow cover, or earlier, with the first hard frost, or earlier, when the shortening day and the first falling flakes begin to oppress. Winter, then, takes the shape of depression; a descent into a dark valley, looking back to the light and color of Fall, hitting bottom, then cramponing one's way up the sixty days of February to arrive at March, when one wishes one to plant, but cannot. For another friggin month and a half of filthy snow and other lingering symptoms and damage. If all goes well, no systems fail. However, without snow, I've been able to discover something:
Winter's not about snow. Obviously. Winter's about light; and more light. Winter begins on the Solstice, when the first day is longer than the day before, which is marked for us, culturally, by Christmas. Every day after winter begins, our planet tilts into more light. Winter's advent signals not a slump, but expansion! (For those vulnerable to Seasonal Affective Depression, as I all-too-obviously am, that's important to remember.**)
Sunny optimism? Well, I'm a WASP, and raised a New Englander, so perhaps "optimism" is a little bit strong. Still, the experience of imagining that I'm entering a process that is rising, inexorably, is new to me. I'm looking forward to a good winter!
(Actually, there are three more reasons why I feel better about this winter than winters past. The first two have to do with horrible February: February is the time for winter sowing, so already there's something to look forward to, and not very far away, either. Also, I had thought that I might be able to escape to an undisclosed location in February.*** Now, it looks like that won't be possible, but for awhile, February was replaced in my mind with more pleasant plans and imagined environs, and happy thoughts for the future do seem to feed back into the present, a la George Soros's concept of "reflexivity." Finally, during the descent to the solstice, my body decided that I was going to work until three or four in the morning, and I got a tremendous amount done, some of which you will shortly become aware of (and in a good way, I hope).)
Funny, the second set of contrails heading west in an hour; transatlantic flights diverted from storms down south?
* * *
On another note, I've been consumed with work, and not only for Corrente, and so I have not said "Thank you!" to the wonderful people who sent me books and gifts from my Amazon wish list. Thank you. These gifts are especially touching to me because we are people who know each other only online, through our writing, and as all we know, identity is far less easy to make genuine online than it is in RL. So for me, Christmas came early. (And my apologies to the two people who Amazon's friggin system allowed to send me the same book, Domain Specific Languages. It's a wonderful book, but I don't need two. Will you both mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, so we can figure out what to do? The Amazon packaging doesn't help me understand who sent what.) And a thank you, also, to the people whose contributions help keep the hamsters turning the servers (and me fueling the house).
And now, I'm outta here. Perhaps for today and the next. The gift of time that is one's own...
NOTE * Subtext, from the red nose, is that Rudolf is an alchoholic who should nevertheless be allowed to drive. Bet you'll never hear that one again the same way in the Mall...
NOTE ** Though the idiotic withdrawal of light that comes with the end of Daylight Savings Time momentarily defeats this process, rather like what the Republicans did in 1937. And here's a useful link on SAD. I've found a lamp with a sunlight spectrum quite useful.
NOTE *** My mother always did this. She described the locals as "creeping about, as if under a great weight" and she wasn't wrong. So she took flight.