Last Sunday, almost all the snow melted away up here in Columbia County. Along the edge of the road there is still a steep mound covered with gravel, a snowplow moraine. But the yard and pastures are suddenly bare. To the dogs, this snowy farm was, I think, a relatively scentless place. They stood on the drifts snuffing the air around them, sometimes digging at a vole track under the surface. Now they walk in the old way, noses down, questioning the soil.
The melt came swiftly, with temperatures pushing 60. Soon, the dry stream west of the barn — a staircase of bare rock much of the year — was running hard. For an hour or two that afternoon, even the bees came out, and that evening, to my surprise, I saw a bat swooping low under the porch lights. Yet this did not feel like a false start, a premature spring as disheartening as it was warm. It felt like getting back to the bare foundation so that winter can begin all over again.
The new year is always a kind of chronological trope, an imaginary point of debarkation. We are so deeply knotted to time past and time future that come Jan. 1, we are hardly shoving off for parts unknown. Still, the change implicit in the new year can be a mental leap forward, a recasting of the imagination. Entering the new year also can be an act of conscience, and more so this year than in many years past.
Somehow it’s fitting to come into the new year on bare ground, even as the snow is gathering again. It makes it so much easier to take account of the work to be done, the decisions to be made and, for that matter, unmade. Some years it is just a gray transition from one calendar to the next, the resumption of a postponed meeting and an old agenda. But that is not how this new year feels. Time for the rotting fence posts to be replaced, the sagging gates to be rehung.The freeze will come again, and the stream at the back of the property will recede into dryness. Snow will fall, and when the wind picks up, as it nearly always does, the snow will drift into a whole new landscape, bearing only an oblique relation to the past.
-- VERLYN KLINKENBORG