Saturday, January 24, 2009
Hooray! Here in southwestern Ohio, we’ve just had ourselves a genuine January Thaw. During the two days it lasted, temperatures along the riverbank climbed all the way to the 50-degree mark. Stalactite icicles, which for several weeks had fringed the cottage eaves like dragon’s teeth, began drip-drip-dripping on Thursday. By late afternoon they’d begun dropping, falling with a clatter onto the deck, shattering like broken crystal on the ground. Big patches of snow from the roof also kept sliding off—a sudden whoosh-spalt! Practically all the snow in the yard was gone by Friday afternoon—except for a few fist-size patches under the evergreens and tucked in the nooks of a pile of stones over against the southeast fence. Icy sheets in the drive had turned into puddles; there were miniature bogs in the yard, little remnants of standing water which had nowhere to drain and couldn’t soak into the soil because the earth beneath the temporarily-warmed surface was still frozen hard as a rock. The ice shelf along both sides of the river, however, managed to survive the heat—at least about half of it did. Throughout the two thaw days, I watched the center channel of open water gradually widen as the outermost edges of the white shelf—where the ice was thinnest—slowly melted back. The sun-filled days inspired the birds, prompting all manner of boisterous singing—cardinals, titmice, wrens and sparrows formed the core of the daylong chorus. The welcome mild weather inspired us, too, and we spent the first day sawing wood, cleaning up the yard, and sorting through the clutter of a small shed that’s going to get replaced this spring or summer, but for now simply acts as a junk magnet for everything we can stuff through its doors. January Thaws, like Indian Summer and Dogwood Winter, aren’t officially recognized or sanctioned as such by the professional weather folks—never mind that countrymen and those less concerned with scientific dogma have identified and appreciated these mid-winter warming interludes for centuries. The old timers may insist that a true January Thaw has to occur after the 20th…earlier doesn’t count, being just a continuation of those mild stutters we frequently experience between Christmas and Epiphany. No matter. We don’t have to have some TV talking head tell us when a January Thaw comes—just as we know how to revel in its brief warmth. Moreover, a January Thaw is all about hope and promise, a temporary loosening of winter’s icy bonds and a brief but encouraging glimpse of better days to come. As I write this the temperature is back down to 19 degrees. The sky is gray, and the air filled with flurries of new snow. But our January Thaw has again reminded us that time passes and seasons change.