Snowy backyard, with path to dog pen

We’re accustomed to seeing January as a season of new beginnings when actually winter is the season of stopping. Perhaps the reason the new year starts in January is to convince us that something new is happening right at that point of year when nothing seems to be moving at all. The plants are dormant or dead; the birds are largely inactive, doing nothing other than feeding and fluttering, with little singing or strutting; and many mammals are hibernating, having disappeared into dens and burrows. Even the earth itself seems to be sleeping, the sun having turned a cold shoulder. What better time to turn off or at least inward, letting one’s own imagination go fallow during a season of contemplation and renewal.

Frosted windows

Why are New Year’s resolutions so popular other than the simple fact that this is the worst time of year to make them? Every January when the sidewalks are encased in ice and crusted over with rutted slabs of ankle-twisting snow, throngs of new walkers and runners hit the streets, determined to start an exercise routine when the days are coldest and darkest. It’s infinitely easier to run or walk in the spring and summer, when the sidewalks are clear, the streets are well-illuminated, and you don’t need to wrap yourself in layers of swaddling, but few people start workout routines then. Instead, the middle of winter is when we resolve to turn over a new leaf even though the trees themselves are bare of actual leaves. The season when seasoned runners find themselves most challenged is exactly when new runners (and walkers) set out in droves to begin their self-improvement anew even though all natural indications suggest that mid-winter is the time to stop and surrender all such striving.

Frosted windows

If you want to go against the grain—if you want to defy nature—make a firm resolve to improve yourself in January, or any other month. Something there is that doesn’t like a wall, and something there is that doesn’t like improvement, neatening, and straightening. Closets naturally prefer to be cluttered, bodies are gravitationally inclined to sag, and motionless objects automatically surrender to inertia. As I type these words, I’m surrounded by sleeping cats who show no desire to move or be moved, being content instead to lie nestled into the furry warmth of their own slumbers.

Frosted windows

Winter, in other words, is a natural time for stopping, for sleeping, for retreating; only the perversion of a pagan holiday convinces us instead to see January—that two-faced month—as being a season for starting, for initiative rather than inertia. In January, I tell myself I should walk more at the very time of year when I feel like walking less.

When J and I left for lunch today, there was a red-tailed hawk circling overhead, his pale belly lit by slanting sunlight. At the birdfeeder were three fat squirrels—one hanging on the feeder itself, and the other two scavenging seeds underneath—and all three seemed oblivious to the bird soaring overhead even though red-tails regularly feed on squirrels. Those fat squirrels seemed almost smug in their blithe disregard, as if they knew the fatter they became, the more difficult they would be to be plucked from the sky. The squirrels that would be the tastiest to consume are also the hardest to catch.

Although today’s post is illustrated with photos I shot today, I actually wrote it last year: an overlooked draft I never got around to posting, and thus perfect material for a day when I left the house only to take the dogs to and from our backyard dog pen.

Flag from below

This morning in my journal, I misspelled “new year” as “now year,” and perhaps that’s a telling mistake. One thing that makes the New Year special is the heightened awareness of the Now that welcomes it. For an expectant few seconds before midnight, everyone pays attention to this moment and the next and the next: three, two, one, Now! As soon as the New Year arrives, it quickly ages, our lighting-quick attention leaping toward more electric kindling. But for one split second at midnight, everyone shares the same hushed, expectant hope for a future that starts nowhere other than Now and Here.