January and February are not without their joys, but they can be difficult months for lovers of light and warmth - and even for those of us who actively enjoy snow. (We can almost always use more of that here in southern Indiana.)
I think of January as a month of challenges - not the least of which is getting my teenage son to leave the cocoon of his futon for a dark trek to a frozen bus stop and another day of school - something he rarely does with any grace. Tim would certainly endorse the idea of a month-long lie-in for himself. I find myself yearning for a warmly lit morning in May, at least over the first dark hour of my day.
My family and I try not to let the thermometer or hours of sunshine dictate our moods, but both do, to some extent. Our more euphoric moments tend to come in warmer months, when we spend more time voluntarily awake, bathed in light and out of doors.
It's been a few years, but I can still picture my friend Charlie pausing on a walk across our lowland pasture one October afternoon as a whirlwind of leaves took form around him. To my delight, and the vast amusement of my then-young son, Charlie suddenly began to dance, spinning at the heart of the autumnal tornado as if he, too, were captive to the wind - and in a spontaneously joyous way, he was.
Tim has had his own inspired celebrations of this sort when he and a couple of friends were playing a no-slack game of "21" at our basketball hoop on a hot summer's eve. As a sudden, drenching rain swept in, shirts were stripped off and the three intensely competitive males began to leap and hula together on the lawn - caught up in the pure joy of cooling down.
Summer rains and fall whirlwinds are one thing; nudging such moments out of January and February is another. So, I was unprepared for what transpired behind a city trash truck the other day.
I was driving on an early-morning errand behind the big, grinding vehicle as it made its slow, lumbering way down a narrow street in Bloomington, Ind. A disappointingly wet snow had frozen to glazed ice on the unplowed surface we were jointly negotiating.
There was no room to pass or turn around, so I slowed to a crawl, my headlights framing the men who hopped from the back of the truck to lift and empty trash cans into the compactor bin.
Along the way, they also grabbed Christmas trees discarded at the curbsides to ferry them to the nearest through street for pickup by composting crews later in the week.
I watched them work as the big truck slid and slithered and stopped and started beneath the dimming street lamps. It was almost 8 a.m. - and not quite daylight. I began to appreciate what a tough job it is in the winter, climbing on and off the truck, hefting other people's frozen garbage, relocating cheerless evergreens - while many people were just sitting down to breakfast.
But it was a still, beautiful morning to be out and about. I'd often cheered myself with that very thought on quiet, dark-January mornings during my own working years as a dairy farmer. Sometimes, inspired by the milkroom radio, I'd even waltzed among the cows as the sun crept up frost-glazed windows and the milking machines chugged away.
I was thinking of that when one of the men on the back of the truck suddenly hopped down, even though the vehicle hadn't slowed. He hadn't slipped; he was up to something. He clung to a back rail with one hand. With the other, he swept patterns over the ice with a tree he was dragging to the next corner.
I suddenly realized that he wasn't walking or running. Rather, he was gliding on his boots atop the frozen roadway, legs slightly apart, knees flexed, tree in tow.
It was too dark to see his face as he skied in the frozen wake of that ungainly power source, but I had a feeling he was grinning. He probably looked like Charlie amid the leaves ... like Tim and his friends in the rain. He might even have been waltzing to some silent inner music.
As I rounded a corner and we went our separate ways, I felt I could see his face well enough, after all - and I could see past it, too, all the way to May.