Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Garden of the Seasons: Changing Faces of January

January is pretty much a black and white month. A very light, but pretty snowfall two weeks back turned our Quincy neighborhood into a 19th century village. Very quiet; nothing moving. Softly falling snow in big visible flakes, many of them dusting the exposed surfaces of the bare trees, a graceful effect magnified by the presence of evergreen trees and shrubs. We may not be able to count on a White Christmas very often these days, though all the old pictures and nostalgic movies always give people a white Christmas. But we generally have a lot of white days, and often weeks, in January.
            This year so far January has treated us to one full-day rocking blizzard, piling up snow walls on the gutters and hard-shoveling to liberate cars and driveways, in the midst of a wicked cold spell that locked in the accumulation. A week-long gradual meltdown finally reaching bare ground. Then the gentle picturesque minor snowfall pictured in the top three photos here.
The fifth photo down shows the first dose of blue sky we experienced after that fall. It wasn't warm enough, and the sun hasn't shined long enough to melt the snow off this path in the thin wood near the Quincy shoreline. But the return of the snow changed the face of the landscape and coaxed me out of the car for the first time in days.
           Nights are still long in January, though we've picked up a half hour of daylight since the start of the month. That makes sunsets, lingering twilights, and the evening hush an even more attention-getting time of day than at other times. Inside a warm room we watch the sky turn color, then linger to monitor the fading tones as the darkness deepens. Posed against that twilight (fourth photo down), the red bloom of hibiscus, one of our summer annuals, gets to spend the winter indoor with us. Unfortunately we did not have space for the rest of the garden. 
            The remains of the snowfall, and its effects, are still evident in the photos that follow. These were taken last weekend in the Blue Hills Reservation, the largest land preserve in the Boston area. It's accessible from Quincy, Milton and a couple other neighboring towns. While most of the footpaths were free of snow cover, some stretches in lower, shadier spots had crunchy, half-frozen tracts. 
          But the big news, in the woodland, was the presence of fast-flowing streams, overflowing at points into wetlands. We saw a couple of green shoots emerging from one of the boggier lowlands -- skunk cabbage, we wondered, already? The sounds of flowing, tumbling brooks provided the music of the winter thaw. It sounded much like the soundtrack to March and April in the New England forests. And we were reminded that "meteorological winter" is more than half over; that begins on Dec. 1 and ends with February. 
          The final three photos show the face of the thaw. Snow melting into stream and wetland, water feeding the groundwater reserve. The ground nourishing the forest, and all the other life that depends upon it. 
            We heard a few birds, saw almost none. Nothing else was moving that wasn't human, or canine. But the waters were moving. And the season. And the ancient revolutions of the earth behind it all.