If you’ve read this blog much, you know I hate January. It’s my least favorite of the 12 months Julius Caesar’s astronomers gave us. Not even Pope Gregory XIII, in all his wisdom, saw fit to rid us of the month named after the god of beginnings and transitions. Before the Gregorian and Julian calendars, you had a blissful monthless period in winter.
Think about that – a monthless period. No calendar to adhere to. No dates ticking down to the inevitable next page on the calendar. A monthless period where it’s just winter all the time, until it’s not.
Maybe it’s because I grew up with my father reading us the “Chronicles of Narnia,” constantly. His own allegory for the endlessness of Communism. But the idea of an eternal winter never bothered me anyway. Just as the white witch never really caused me much irritation other than a slight discomfort with the idea of being permanently turned to stone. Even that didn’t hold much sway with me after the first few readings and the realization that nothing is permanent.
Winter is a fine time, something I’ve grown to appreciate as I age. What I don’t like is what constrains winter, or, perhaps, what fails to. January is the second of two months wholly within the confines of winter. December is mostly fall with a little winter and March is mostly winter with a little spring. January and February are dark, cold and forbidding months in the Northern Hemisphere and the height of summer in the Southern Hemisphere.
I feel far more trepidation at the approach of the summer solstice than I do at the approach of the darkest day of the year, partially because those solar events still don’t exactly match up with what the seasons are in our heads or wherever you experience them.
In Alaska, January is completely dark and evil. There is not but vampires prowling through the long night until the sun begins to creep back up above the horizon in February, during which the light gained daily is almost a physical experience like a hot shower after a cold hike.
In Missoula, Montana, January is a month of skipping work on powder or inversion days and is not associated with the negative shoulder seasons, wherein winter is often so reluctant to give up its ghost. My partner once complained bitterly at a June snowstorm the first year we lived there.
In Chicago, January was associated with polar vortexes, snow and freezing rain. A frozen lake to look out upon day after day, and a bleakness that comes with sharing space with so many millions of people in such a small area without really being able to get out of the small spaces you inhabit.
But here in Oregon, January is 31 days in an endless string of cold, dark, misty or rainy days that make up an entirely different season here that lasts closer to nine months, if you let it. It’s why we’re so green and why moss grows on the tops of our feet and hands.
You can come to appreciate a typical Oregon winter day after many years of living here. The mist, the drizzle, the overcast, the dim light, all of it can be compartmentalized and handled through the right gear, the right mindset, a special light people like to sit under or generally just dealing with it and moving on through the things you must do despite the rain.
January is when it’s worst. It holds my birthday, which I never feel like celebrating. It has a state holiday, which generally coincides with my birthday every 5-7 years, so I’m either upstaged by Dr. Martin Luther King, deservedly, or trying to convince my partner to go away somewhere too cold and uncomfortable for her this time of year.
Alas, there must be something to redeem from this month, right?
Winter would be better served by a monthless period where the weather and the days run together as they do. They could say of me, “He was born in winter,” and I would be happy to acknowledge that and celebrate on a day of my choosing in the warmest days of summer.
No, I will never like January. I’ll tolerate February, because the light therapy is something you can feel. But January is as useless a month as exists.