Breathe deep: Welcome to January, time of contemplation

The decorations are slowly coming down.

The crowd of Santas which had congregated on the fireplace mantle has been reduced to one or two small clusters. The creches are handled with loving care as we swaddle the actors in the stable scene with tissue. Each tree ornament we have acquired over the years is contemplated one more time before we carefully place it in its assigned box. As we pack them in their containers, we are doing our best to keep the tree lights untangled.

Another Christmas celebration is drawing to a close. Beautiful, meaningful and sometimes stressful memories. Time to take a deep breath.

January is next on stage, the month of deep breaths. In the ebb and flow of the calendar year, January is a descent into a peaceful valley after the strenuous ascent to December’s peak. It is a thoughtful time, a time of reflecting on the past and considering the future, both of which are contemplative acts. This particular January in Indiana is in deep freeze, which makes it an especially good time to stay inside and think.

Yes, but Becky and I wonder about the pond.

We take a snowy walk through the woods to see how our small pond is responding to January’s chill. It is fitting that we refer to the white cover on the ground as a blanket of snow. Blankets are for rest, for snuggling up, for quiet thoughts and dreams.

We are aware that many of the critters and creatures with whom we share our property are snuggled in their January nests. We imagine the bats dormant in the trees, while frogs and turtles likely sleep right near our feet. The woods is still alive in January if only just a bit more quiet.

But some animals still are on the move, and the snow is useful for tracking their movements. We deduce that the neighbor’s dam must be a popular highway for deer and rabbits as well as some other small beings that we are hard pressed to identify. Why don’t I remember to bring along a guidebook when we go out? Well, I justify to myself, this trip is not a scientific expedition; it is a simple walk in cold January weather.

Coming upon our small pond, we are awarded a view of a clean pristine white irregular circle. It has been very cold for many days, and I am sure that it is solid enough for our weight, but I don’t go out onto the ice, and neither does Becky. In my youthful days, I wouldn’t have been able to resist leaving scuffed trails of my footprints — evidence that I was there — on such a perfect blank canvas, and later on in the week or month I might well test the ice. But on this January day I want to leave the smooth white space untouched. I decide it would be right for animals who wander out onto the frozen pond to be the ones to leave their autographs.

Eventually we trek back home and leave the outdoor cold for warm indoor comfort. Coffee and hot chocolate are welcome, and our faces and fingers warm up. Soon I am thinking again about January and about endings and beginnings. The bustling energy that comes with December’s gifts, decorations and gatherings is over now, but it seems at this moment the peaceful spirit of Christmas lingers still.

Yes, the ebb and flow throughout the year has within it intense peaks and calm valleys, but some things shouldn’t be constrained by time on a calendar. My January hope is that a peaceful, loving Christmas spirit will be a constant thread weaving throughout our year.

Norman Knight, a retired Clark-Pleasant Middle School teacher, writes this weekly column
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