We’re already halfway through December. Another year is fast coming to a close.
In a few days, we’ll pass the invisible celestial milepost of a solstice—the midwinter point of yore—and darkness will relinquish its hold on our days as they begin to be replenished by the ever-increasing blessing of light.
Autumn ends. The pendulum swings the other way. A brand new season starts. Winter becomes official as time moves relentlessly onward.
December is the end consequence of our annual circular journey—the conclusion to a year-long odyssey.
When we placed our new calendar on the wall last January, we set out on a well-worn pathway, prescribed by the heavens and as ancient as the planet. The trail led first through winter’s heart of snow and cold, ice and wind; past the burgeoning vernal greenery of spring, with pastel wildflowers and lilting birdsong; into summer’s lush, cicada-loud heat; and finally to autumn—mature, ripe, exquisite in its patchwork robe of scarlet and gold.
Now we’re back where we started, about to step into winter. A trail, both old and new, familiar and unknown; one filled with joy and trepidation, hope and fear. A trek which carries us, day-by-day, through the years of our life.
December is thus both end and beginning. Which is why many of the old nature texts often refer to this month as the “turning point of the year” or the “year’s hinge.”
A few mornings ago, a wealth of brilliant sunshine turned the world beyond the windowpanes a’dazzle. I had work to do, household and holiday errands to run. My day’s schedule was already set.
But I took a second look at the frosted grass, sparkling river, and icy diamonds shining amongst the stones along the edge of the gravel bar across from the cottage, and I re-prioritized.
My life was obviously overly organized. I needed to heed spontaneity’s summons.
Twenty minutes later, I’d parked in a rural pull-off a mile or two from the house and crossed an abandoned field, wide and tangled with weeds and brush.
My destination was a certain low hill. Its sides are clad with cedars, a dozen feet tall, fragrant, and so thickly spaced you often can’t see more than a few yards ahead. On the hill’s top there’s a stand of pines—big trees, dark, brooding, towering like watchful Druids guarding the field below.
A rather Christmasy setting. One of my favorite places any time of the year, but especially appropriate given the season.
A number of glacial erratics are scattered throughout the pines—huge stones, some the size of a kitchen stove. A few are even bigger!
They were doubtless placed here by whoever owned the land more than a century back—though how such a deed was accomplished using only horse or oxygen power is almost unfathomable. I’m grateful, however, since they afford me dry seating whenever I visit.
You hear claims December’s landscape is bleak—lifeless, dreary, devoid of interest, and lacking in color.
This is absolutely wrong! Simply the mistake of poor observers.
Sure, the color isn’t as vivid as it was back in October. Yet there’s still plenty around. Except the overall range has narrowed.
Winter’s tones are subdued, muted. You have to look close, pay attention.
I thought of the soft gray rabbit fur tuft I’d found clinging to a bronzed goldenrod stem on my way across the field.
Or the pale white-on-white filigree of ice along the edge of the brook near the base of the little hill—ice which scintillated in a prismatic rainbow of colors, ladled out in tiny flashes like precious accent jewels.
A palette a discerning eye can appreciate. Not that there isn’t also the occasional bold dash of color.
Near where I sat, a pair of cardinals were busily investigating a pine—the gaudy male resplendent in scarlet, his mate elegant in her buff-and-crimson plumage. As I’d crossed the meadow, a small flock of goldfinches flitted amongst the brown weed stems and dried seedheads.
Color strong enough for any season, I thought. A Carolina wren in a nearby blackberry thicket, began loudly singing his boisterous agreement.
So, take a break from the seasonal hustle and bustle. Life whizzes past too fast. Get out, go slow, look around.
December’s end and beginning is a time worth seeing.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.