Slippery January Trickery

January finished yesterday.  As we slept, February arrived and brought sunshine and sweater weather.  My neighbor, an indoor lady, was sitting on her deck this morning, the sun splashing golden light on her hair.  A purple glow rose from the surrounding woods and faded into an iridescent haze as filmy clouds drifted eastward.

January is a tricky month here in Kentucky.   Temperatures can drop precipitously by 40 degrees, from highs to lows, from sunshine’s green promise of spring to ice’s advantage over reliable navigation.  On Sunday we could be trimming shrubbery; on Monday spreading salt on a slick back porch.

Unlike our Southern neighbors, Kentuckians are generally prepared for snow and ice with salted and plowed roads.  No preparation, however, can alleviate the paralyzing power of frozen water falling earthward. When a vicious ice storm shuttered Kentucky in 2013, 525,000 people were left powerless when tree limbs couldn’t support the extra weight of ice.  Exploding trees sent wooden shrapnel flying across yards, hammered cars, and punched through roofs. Hazardous electrical lines lay across roadways.  The storm was the worst recorded in Kentucky history.

Typically, storms do not close Kentucky highways and strand motorists. But every winter, snow and ice storms do topple rotted trees onto power lines, which happened in our neighborhood last week. We lose power for a few hours, and occasionally for a few days.  Our customary January weather, however, is scattered with welcoming thaws of thin layers of ice, flurries of birds at the feeder and on the hollies, and human flutters of preparation and caution.

A snow prediction causes a run on grocery stores, as if we were in little house on the prairie and blizzards were going to strand us for a month.  Soon after folks have stocked up on milk and eggs, the predicted storm drops an inch of crusty snow, ice forms overnight after a daytime thaw, and folks slip into slow time.

It won’t  do to rush around on ice patches.  If we expect to drive off in a big hurry, we will be disappointed.  The car windows will need de-icing.  The garage door will need hammering to release a tenacious icy grip.  The car will slide on the incline, the tires straining to track.  The effort with extra layers, gloves, and scarves drags on us.  

On a recent Diane Rehms broadcast, Isabel Allende said, “January is an introverted month…a good time for writing.”  I agree.  It’s also a good time for baking, painting, reading, and watching movies,  a great time for catching up with friends or for quieting oneself.  It’s even a good time to bundle up for a long walk just to experience the thrill of crunching snow underfoot.

It was in January that our lovely Rocio, an exchange student from Mexico, discovered snow as we drove westward across detouring backroads toward a family reunion.  As we worried about running out of gas and dying from hypothermia, she pestered us about  playing in the snow until we finally stopped and showed her how to make snowballs and snow angels.  A normally three hour drive took over six hours, not an event we would voluntarily choose, but one which resulted in delicious hot chocolate at a quick stop and a peek through the keyhole of her wonderment.

Our young pup in his first experience with snow approached it suspiciously.  “You want me to pee in that!?” We gleefully, and dishonestly, stomped around as if we always went out in the middle of the night in pjs, boots, and robes to whoop it up in ice and snow.  Now Pup charges out over the deck, slipping and sliding, tasting snow, and expecting us to keep up while we shiver in our slippers.  He’s a convert, you see.  He has discovered the fun side of icy January nights.

There are anecdotes for January’s chill and thaw.  Florida escapes, indoor gyms, yoga, closet cleaning, movie theaters, soup suppers with friends.  It just won’t do to bemoan weather.  Like a sudden increase in cash flow, January weather provides time flow.  Winter has rhythm, a steady pulse.  The heater fan purrs in the walls, ice crackles along the eaves, and woodpeckers peck at the trees.  January encourages an extra cup of tea or coffee, morning omelets, and baking, if not for the calories, for the fragrance of pumpkin bread or apple cake.

Although we bemoan the chill in our bones, we also hover expectantly for a morning snowfall, wishing for two or three inches to blanket the grass, frost tree branches, and quiet the neighborhood.  We like muted evenings of reading by the fire, wearing smart wool socks, and snuggling under down comforters.  Unlike our grandparents we don’t have to chip ice from the pump, sleep in unheated rooms, and milk cows before sunup.  January for us is easy time, slow time, with adventurous possibilities: chain sawing a toppled tree, wheeling a sliding car, and searching for candles, not to mention, heating a house when the power fails.

It’s temporary, January.  After all, it did leave yesterday.  As for February, today’s balmy day is likely just tricky weather, a false precursor of forsythia and daffodil blooms and hikes in wild-flowered woods.

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