The stress and expectations of the holidays are over. Snow could still happen. Winter has not yet worn out its welcome. It’s too early to dread the tasks of spring. Sunrises are spectacular. There is fog. Rainy cocooning days are abundant, yet interspersed with crisp sparkling sunny ones—but not too many. What’s not to love about January in the Pacific Northwest?
True, the spring-is-not-imminent bubble is broken when seed catalogs show up in my box, and when my neighbor starts pruning his apple trees and mine haven’t been attended to in four years.
Last weekend, much to my regret after a stormy week, the sun came out and the temperature rose. After ignoring it for a couple days, I couldn’t avoid spending Sunday outside when I really wanted to stay in and paint a wall or work on my newest writing project or finish reading my book (Where the Crawdads Sing, by Delia Owens—a beautiful book).
I wasn’t going to go crazy. I was just going to accomplish one long-avoided outdoor task: get the St. John’s Wort under control. I am missing the stone retaining wall buried under it. It was harder than I anticipated. It did not pull easily, even out of rain-saturated ground; and pulling it from the downhill side of the wall caused the large stones to drop and roll, endangering my feet; and necessitating carrying them back up the slope.
I gave it up after realizing it was going to wreak body havoc and I can’t take ibuprofen because I’m having everyone’s favorite cancer prevention procedure this week—and I don’t mean mammogram. I left the piles I had created, that didn’t put a dent in the job.
I moved on to cutting down the large dead rhododendron to add to the pile my helpmate is going to pick up for disposal soon. (He came on Monday! Two pickup and two trailers full. I created it all.)
I do love opening up space, which is kind of what January is about for me.
Dragging the branches up to the pile, returning for more again and again, I tried to turn a blind eye to all the other tasks that need to be done before the commencement of spring adds to the list. Only sheer willpower kept me from sitting down in the driveway and crying. It’s too much. It needs a blanket of snow—out of sight, out of mind. I should live in Alaska. Or Siberia.
My mother, after my father died, hired people to do it all. I don’t have her resources. She did a yeoman’s job keeping up the house and the myriad repairs needed by an aging structure. She hired it all out; but as evidenced by the complete files she kept, it was a huge task. She got multiple quotes then followed workers around—probably with a clipboard—checking on their work, inevitably writing letters of complaint to superiors, challenging the cost, making follow-up phone calls.
Not me. I have a hard time asking for help for something I can do myself. It’s not a virtue. But when I hire someone (by webbing out from one person I like to the next), I tend to trust them to know their trade and to set a fair price. Maybe I could use a wee bit of my mother’s micromanagement, but so far this is working for me.
Returning to the St. John’s Wort to pick up my piles, and rake storm debris out of the yard—dumping the loaded wheelbarrow over when a bolt fell out of a leg—I wondered how my father did it all. I had asked my mother if he hired any help. “No,” she said, “never. And it killed him.” We’ll never know if it killed him or saved him, but what I really want to know is did he resent the time the endless tasks took him away from his beloved workshop and creative endeavors?
This property was my parents’ life. I see that now. It had to be. I love it beyond measure, but it can’t be my life. My mother dealt with the overwhelming tasks beyond the yard by saying, “I didn’t want it to look like a park.” I’ve believed it was her rationale for letting go of what she couldn’t deal with. I do want it to look like a park; and it’s in danger of looking like back country wilderness if left on its own. But I’m overwhelmed. Hard choices are going to have to be made. I don’t know that I’ll make it to my 2027 exit plan.
Piles and branches picked up, fir needles and cones blown out of the carport and across the parking zone to add to the wet needles and leaves that need to be scraped off the edges of the driveway before they turn to soil, I was ready to call it a day. Then I remembered the roof. Holy crap. After the not-quite-epic Epiphany Storm, it had to be cleaned off. Sighing, I dragged the ladder down the stairs, positioned the wheelbarrow for dropping into from the top, threw the broom and bucket onto the roof, and climbed up. It was a mess. I shouldn’t have left if for last, when I was exhausted.
I took two of my mother’s extra-strength Tylenol, only slightly past expiration, plugged in the huge heating pad I finally found for her too near the end of her life, and was in bed at 7:30. How many days until the rain comes back? Could it stay January for a few more months?
P.S. The dreadful procedure is over—”yucky,” as the littlest little is fond of saying—and all is well. The drugs were good, and I got to spend the afternoon napping instead of working outside. Unlike pulling blackberry vines, I won’t have to repeat that for a long time.
Today the rain is back. Yehaw!
To Love January
I clasp January to me giddy
with hope for its newborn
cry that clears away the worn
out year like so much tinsel
carted off to storage.
I love January’s uncluttered room,
its freshly laundered calendar innocent
and white beneath a pure blue sky
grazed by bone-clean trees.
To love January is an acquired taste,
like learning to let the tongue curl
around the slow, sweet burn
of Tuaca’s golden fire.
I do not want to wait for April to fall in love,
July to run with a salty sea,
October to be crowned
in color. I want to drink it all in now
when everything is possible
and I and the world are infants again
babbling, listening for birdsong.
(Thank you to Joanna Powell Colbert and those before her for sharing this poem.)