The New Year
I had great plans for the winter break.
After the mad scramble to pull Christmas together—cutting the spruce tree from beside the horse trailer, baking three types of pie and marinating and roasting a fresh ham, decorating the tree, and wrapping then opening presents—we had a delightful dinner and sat around playing Apples to Apples till midnight Christmas night.
My plan was to spend the daylight part of each day, between 11:30 and 3, working with the horses, a reminder to them and to me that we had a partnership, that they weren’t just going feral for the rest of the winter. But, instead, a mass of cold air descended on the Interior and we hunkered down under 30 to 40 below temperatures, stoking the woodstove, eating leftover pie, watching movies, and sleeping a lot. Out in the corral, Mattie and Sam hung out in their run-in shed, snug in their heavyweight blankets and fresh shavings. We brought them extra hay during the day, and I added brome pellets soaked in warm water to their usual dinner of soaked beet pellets and supplements.
My great plans melted into a dozy, slow time, interrupted by visits with friends and the occasional fiddling with cars to be sure they kept running. When we ventured to town, everything seemed quiet except the coffee shop, filled with the people who hadn’t left town for the holidays, all a bit overheated from their layers of clothes, and talking rapidly from the caffeine. Saturday night, New Year’s Eve, we went to the University fireworks display and stood in the 35 below air, watching the sparks boom and spray above our heads. In the deep cold, the sound is magnified by the density of the air and the loud rocket bursts tingled our cheeks—all that was exposed—and vibrated the snow beneath us. We stood, but some well-bundled folks lay back against a snow berm and watched the fireworks blossom in the dark sky above them. Later, standing around a bonfire, we set off fire balloons or fire lanterns, and I thought of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Armadillo,” which has the lines:
This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,
rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.
Once up against the sky it’s hard
to tell them from the stars —
planets, that is — the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars…
Something in this dark, cold time keeps turning my mind back to old familiar poems. Later, when a fine light snow fell through the cold, drifting onto the horses’ blankets, and catching the porch light, speckling the night, I thought of Frost’s “Desert Places,” which starts with the lines “Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast, ” and ends with
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars–on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
I’m not usually one who makes a list of New Year resolutions. As usual, I’ll make an effort to get back to my dance classes and winter indoor riding—what passes for an exercise routine—to work off the after effects of two weeks of pie eating. And, in the weeks to come, as the afternoon lengthens and we have the promise of above zero temperatures, I’ll make the usual plans to get Mattie and Sam fit for summer riding. The first day of class for the semester is still two weeks away, but I’ve taken on a new responsibility in my department—my resolution there is not to let it overpower the things I love about my life—and to do what I can to solve problems along the way. And, for the most part, to keep that part of my life out of these posts—which are, after all, about the things that sustain me—horses, poetry, dance, gardening, and the things of the psyche.
Today it warmed up a bit. It was only 10 below when I fed the horses tonight and we all—me, the horses, the poodle—felt a bit lighter-spirited because of it. The forecast is for 40 below by the weekend, so I’m keeping the horses’ blankets on for now, keeping the fire going in the stove, getting a little more hunkering down done. We’ve turned the year.