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Looking at the calendar

Kelly Sikkema

The calendar is fake; seasons are real.

Beginning a new year in the middle of winter has always seemed ridiculous to me. But then no one asked me. I know, I know: it was Caesar’s doing, 4,000 years ago, to honor Janus, the god of new beginnings. But I look around these days and do not see too many new beginnings, although many of us do resolve to attempt new ways of doing things- usually failing miserably by February at the latest.

No, what I see is a natural world largely quiescent. The bulbs and buds, the shoots and sprouts, seeds and egg cases wait patiently, quietly burgeoning; the frogs and turtles lie sleeping in the mud; the little chipmunks slumber in their burrows: all waiting for their grand debuts in a few months, in what we call spring.

And the human world is also in a quiescent phase here on the Outer Cape, stripped down to its barest, non-tourist base, with many shops, motels, and restaurants as closed up as the buds on a Beech. Yes, as deciduous trees have lost their leaves- Shakespeare’s “bare ruined choirs”- ungainly plywood blooms on many dusty store windows. Closed for the Season is a sad familiar message.

Our population is reduced to us die-hards who tough it out. The summer visitors are long-gone and the “shoulder season” fall and early-winter visitors have joined them, along with many of our neighbors who just can’t abide the cold. (Not that it is that cold- but cold enough to make southern climes alluring.) A significant fraction of those watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks are now comfortably ensconced on a tropical beach, straw hats on their heads and funny-colored drinks with paper umbrellas in their hands. A few confused tourists wander about town.

So here we are.

I love the winter months, the God-forsaken January-February-March months, when we have our towns back, when there is just more space, fewer people, and- for many of us- more time. This is the time of Quiet. When you can hear yourself think. The stillness in the air seeps into the soul. The quality of light this time of year is different: difficult to describe, but gentler, softer, with a clarity that you don’t find in steamy August. There are so many shades of gray now, but an occasional day will come through with a blast of clear pure blue that takes your breath away. On windless late afternoons, a twilight lavender sheen limns the water. But so much depends on the wind these days, like the weathered shingles and the sand piled up against bulkheads.

This is not exactly a ghost town, but there are so many empty houses, especially on the water. I stand in front of one tonight, on a scrap of beach under a crescent moon. Across the dark water a gull cries out. I want to call back. Hey, I would say, if I knew how to speak gull, we own this night together, we year-rounders.

Hey, I would say: Happy New Year.