Yesterday morning the dawn was all pink and peach, the world blushing into wakefulness. This morning the dawn was all silver and gray, the day reluctantly moving toward life. January has, so far, been a bit confusing, temperatures rising to 82 degrees and falling to 35 within a few hours. Blindingly bright sunshine rushed out of town by heavy clouds. It is as though the cosmos itself is unsure.
Peeling off the layers of turtleneck, sweater and what I call my Michelin Man coat for a single T-shirt and, just as quickly, piling them all back on has made me more than a little unsure myself. Am I supposed to be worried that climate change is accelerating or just grateful for the balmy days? Am I supposed to see the schizoid weather as a symbol of something else?
Despite the usual cold, January is one of my favorite months. The farm is still and quiet. The fields are hard and the rows cut in preparation for spring are peaked like meringue. The trees, whose shapes in spring and summer are like that of a teenager’s prom gown, full and floaty, are undressed, their branches knotted and bent into dowagers’ humps. I can see so much more, so much better.
But, then, there is the wind. The wind waters my eyes into tears that tremble but cannot fall. The wind draws my shoulders into knots that my hands are too cold to massage away. The wind chaps my lips and burns my ears and freezes my toes. I can find no shelter in the wind.
There was a storm a few nights ago. Very little rain, according to Daddy’s gauge, but lots of wind. Several dead trees along the edge of the road had given up the ghost and simply laid down, breaking into pieces that revealed their rotted cores. Three of my six rocking chairs were blown off into the shrubbery, their skids across the porch leaving wide white streaks.
It was not until the next day that I noticed the consequence of the wind’s campaign in the backyard, which was littered with small branches shaken from the sycamore tree, fallen to the ground like a game of Pick-Up Sticks. It took a while to gather them, to make a pile at the edge of the branch big enough for a small bonfire.
In all the bending and straightening, something drew my attention upward and I saw a large branch that had broken off and been caught by a lower limb. It looked like a wishbone, dangling above the ground, swaying just a little in the breeze. I reached to pull it down, angling myself away from the spot I assumed gravity would draw it and, with a couple of tugs, felt the branch give way and fall at my feet.
While I was staring up, though, I noticed that all over the tree there were buds, tiny little arrows pointing toward the sky. In the dead of winter, the sycamore was readying itself for spring.
And then I realized that none of the branches I had tossed into the pile, not a single one, had a bud pushing through its bark. The wind, in its biting and cutting, had pruned away the unfruitful, had made the sycamore ready to bloom.
The natural world never lies. The natural world, left to itself without the interference of humans, knows how to keep itself alive, how to keep its balance maintained. The cosmos, it turns out, may be less unsure than I thought and my watery eyes and knotted shoulders and chapped lips, it turns out, may have a purpose. I will know come spring.