In Hancock County, Maine
Some romantics like to believe that the Romans named January after Janus, the mythical two-headed god of beginnings, transitions, and ends, whose name is derived from the Latin word for “door.” Most experts, however, say that the month was named after the warlike goddess of the Roman Empire, Juno, the mythical mother of Mars and Vulcan. Being more romantic than expert, we like to think conceptually of January as the optimists' entrance into the yearly cycle -- a time of renewal and hope.
Our new year’s optimism can be vastly increased when the cycle begins with a beautiful snowstorm that has the sense to stop just after it has healed the landscape’s scars under about six inches of purity.
We got only one of these lovely storms in January, and it was not until mid-month. For some of us, its beauty was tempered a bit by increasing anxiety over our warming (and less stable) climate. The new year's first real snow was delayed by temperatures approaching 50 degrees in early January; moreover the snow was melted in about a week by the return of unseasonably warm weather. "Balmy" January days have their benefits, especially in terms of outdoor work; but, they don't "feel right" in a place where the air is expected to be cold enough to sharpen the mind and clarify the eye.
We did have several cuttingly-cold days with angry winds that attacked out of the north. They frenzied the usually calm cove waters, disrupted electric power, and reminded us that Mother Nature can throw a wicked tantrum.
Nonetheless, our few days of good January snow did create an opportunity for those of us who try to de-clutter our lives with a little natural solitude: walking a snowy trail deep into tall woods; listening to the crunch of our boots while they make the only human tracks for acres; then, standing absolutely still, absorbing the forest's profound silence.
Or not. We also can be walking in those very same woods in January and have our hearts stopped when the ground beside us erupts explosively in loud whooshes and high-pitched shrieks. As we catch our breath, the nestled wild turkeys that we almost stepped on helicopter in every direction.
The January woods also can resonate with the mechanical snarls of chain saws and other machinery that work the frozen trails. The snow-covered hills in towns can echo the laughs and screams of children sledding down hills. In cold country such as this, there also usually are plenty of inside activities, especially musical presentations, lectures, and local ice hockey games.
Due to January's unusually mild interludes, lake ice in this area apparently was not thick enough to safely support ice fishing. If and when it is, we also may hear another "natural" local phenomenon: loud music coming from portable shelters out on a frozen lake, where the spirits may be conjured by certain beverages and trout may be pulled out of a dark hole.
Perhaps best of all for those who are visually oriented is the low, sometimes syrupy, late light of January that can transform familiar sights into something bordering on splendid. The sun's most dramatic gesture, however, is when, while departing our rocky shores, it runs a lingering finger down the sea's blushing face.
If you want to take the whole 90-second virtual tour of moments that we'll use to remember January, click the link below. We recommend that your initial screening be a full-frame slideshow. (To make that happen, click on the SLIDESHOW button above the featured [largest] image on the gallery page to which the link will take you.) Here's the link:
Barbara and Dick