Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, December 31, 2012

Goodbye 2012 

I was up in the park early this morning watching the winter sun come up. This has been an unusually cold winter. Michael the Mountain Man used to express some surprise at how mild Beijing's winters were. He said, "They told me Beijing was oing to be cold. This isn't any colder than standing on a mountain ridge." Standing-on-a-mountain-ridge cold. That would describe Beijing pretty well for most of the cold season. But in December and January it isn't quite right. There are a number of days in the coldest part of the winter where you would be severely frost bitten if you didn't have a good pair of gloves. And as all of you northerners know, the really cold weather starts after December 21st, which is the shortest day of the year and the first day of winter. You'd think it would be the coldest day of the year, but there is a delay in the atmosphere. So the coldest day of the year is actually a month to a month and a half after the shortest day. In North Dakota, they used to say, "As the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen." Late January can be really, really bitter. But the fever often breaks the first part of February. It's not exact. There are sometimes warm fronts that come in from time to time during December and January. But by Ground Hog day you can be pretty sure that winter is pretty much behind you. Not ready to turn the heat off or anything, but the deep bitter cold of winter eases up.

The end of another year. They come and go pretty quickly now. I guess that's because the older you get, the smaller a percentage your whole life one year is. Swiftly go the seasons, swiftly go the years. So what does the next year hold. The winter sunrise gives hope that a bright new year is on the horizon. It brings to mind the words of Thomas Hardy in his classic winter poem, published in 1900, but actually written in 1899, at the end of the 19th Century:

The Darkling Thrush

I leant upon a coppice gate
     When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
     The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
     Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
     Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
     The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
     The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
     Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
     Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
     The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
     Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt and small,
     In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
     Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
     Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
     Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
     His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
     And I was unaware.

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