I don’t know who decided or when that January, the coldest month of the year, would mark the beginning of a new year. Maybe they figured that was when people needed a good drunken party or that would be the best time to get people in stores for end-of-year sales.
Going back even further in time, the new year was probably linked to the solstice and the beginning of the sun coming back, with longer days. That makes sense to me, because it’s the changes that come with the seasons that are more meaningful than marking the years, which march by too swiftly now. It’s not just the cold that signifies winter but the turning inward from the darker days, a time to retrench, undistracted by colorful flowers or new leaves on the trees. (Maybe that’s why our resolutions come now, a time to re-examine our lives, although our culture translates this into the best ways to lose 20 pounds.) Spring means life returning, water and green swelling up from the snow and ice. Summer is the time for ease, to do nothing but enjoy the richness. And fall is bittersweet, blending the last beautiful days with the sense of impending darkness.
I measure the year in even smaller ways. Winter ends for me when I see the sandhill cranes returning every March to southern Colorado on their way south. It doesn’t matter if the ground is still frozen or if it’s snowing so hard I hardly know where the snow ends and the birds begin, as soon as I hear their cries high in the sky or I can see these ancient birds slowly flapping their long wings, my own heart soars. It’s spring, no matter what the calendar or weather says.
At the cabin, it’s spring as soon as the first pasqueflower emerges from the snow, or the first chipmunk or ground squirrel ends its hibernation with a good romp through the pine needles.
I measure summer, not by Memorial Day or July 4, but by the first time I hear the lilting song of the house wren, see the ice finally break up on Cabin Creek or discover the purple columbine on the west side of the cabin. And summer is not officially over until the last hummingbird departs, sometime in September. Winter doesn’t begin until the chipmunks have returned to their hiding places for the winter.
This week, several inches of snow cover the ground, Mount Meeker is white from top to bottom, and Cabin Creek is frozen over, while the sun’s shadows stretch farther than the plants and trees themselves, By my reckoning, it’s now officially winter. Enjoy.