December song

In December the sky can lower like a ceiling, as if the lazier snowflakes have arranged the shortest distance to fall. The world becomes an unfinished room -- all the colors gone, stuck between decorators.

Even when the sky is blue, the blue has a chilling sparkle, like ice, or diamonds on the fingers of a dowager.

The words beginning with "I" -- leafy, lush, languid, luxuriant -- are packed away for the season, along with the bathing suits.

Winter begins by making everything flat. The snow falls, and the earth becomes a white desert, no matter what greeness may flourish there in other seasons.

Every bare tree is a kind of cactus.

On a truly gray December day the memory falls, and one has to rush to the desk drawer stuffed with old Caribbean travel folders to remember what a warm world is like.

Sometime between September and December an oil painting has turned into a pen-and-ink drawing.

For the better part of three seasons air is as invisible to human beings as water is fish. In December air suddenly becomes palpable.

You see it -- a cloud of steam, right under your frosted nose -- every time you breathe.

You feel it, nipping like a wild thing at your ears, your fingers, your toes.

Breathe too deeply, and it becomes an ice cube in your lungs.

Cold air loves the back teeth -- you smile at your own risk.

In June people barely recognize themselves from pictures taken during December. Who is this stranger, disguised in a ski mask like a bank robber, wrapped up in the insulation of a parka, the humanity of hands lost in mittens?

Summer's grace hibernates in winter. Everybody becomes a bear, plodding in slow motion.

Eyes water. Lips dry up. The whole face pinches. EVerything seems to turn to nose. Ordinarily jolly people look as if they're auditioning for a Bergman movie.

No wonder the month is so full of holiday and song. It had better be.

We put all the colors indoors that have disappeared out of doors.The most dazzling golds and reds and blues decorate the greenest of Christmas trees. Fireplaces flame up with yellow and crimson.

In December we conserve on heat. But how we hate to switch off the lights! We can stand the cold, but not the cold and the darkness.

In December, as in no other season, we warm ourselves with music of good cheer and illuminate the darkness with declarations of faith and love.

Maybe December is everybody's collective recollection of the Ice Age. But if nature won't put pears on our pear trees -- not to mention partridges -- we will.

For we remember the Ice Age and something else.

The gift of December is the sky at night. The daytime sky may lower; the sky of December nights expands. The stars blaze, like jewels on black velvet.

The sky on a clear December night is urgent with signals and promises. No matter how cold the earth may get, here is light. Here is heat. Here is the hearth of the universe. Here is the evidence of regeneration.

Wait a few months, the December sky says. All those "I" words will come back , and without December they would have no real meaning.

December is everybody's act of faith in that ultimate "I" word -- living.

The stars, as the carolers sing, are full of wonder as well as light.

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