Mack Williams: Bleak and wishy-washy
In “The Raven,” Poe writes of the “Bleak December,” but I’ve often thought that January is more than December’s match for figuratively dwelling in “Bleak House.”
And as for Poe’s character in “The Raven” (the man, not the bird), January represents only the beginning of the infinite number of months from which he shall extract himself from that ominous, winged, beaked shadow, “Nevermore!” (I capitalized it, as it is, after all, a “qouth.”)
They saved the release of a rather bleak film, “1917” for January, of course. Imagine it being released in the Summer, but of course there were Summers in the WWI trenches too (four of them, since the first trenches weren’t built till after 1914’s summer), but the smell of death soon drowned out the smell of the late Spring-Summer blooms of the native poppies.
It seems that the after-Christmas letdown always makes itself most felt in January, after the tree is taken down, and after those who have seemingly forgotten to take down their yard decorations, finally remember to do so.
In my childhood days, the use of my Christmas-received binoculars, microscope, chemistry set, or telescope would perk me up during the January “doldrums.” Looking at salt cubes on a glass microscope slide, slicing off onion skins from grocery-bought onions to do the same, and looking at a drop of nasty water from a ditch was an interesting childhood, post-Christmas pastime for me.
The smell of those pantry onion cells under the microscope reminded me that the cultivated onion’s wild cousins would shortly be shooting up through ground far ahead of the grass’ growing season.
Just the other morning, a horrible row came from the tree in an adjacent yard, which broke the bleak Winter silence. The tree was filled with small birds, which due to a trick of distance and silhouette, made them resemble pecans in size; but pecans had already fallen; and anyway, pecans neither quiver nor twitter.
I didn’t know those bird’s origin or destination; but they seemed to have that same excitement which people posses just before boarding a boat for a cruise, or a trip on a plane, train, or bus.
In a bit of anthropomorphism, I imagined these birds conversing about being on their way to somewhere where the grass is green, but more importantly, “bug filled!” Their noise definitely made the dreary January seem less drear for a while (but multiple bird song is just “noise,” as they have no concept of soprano, alto, tenor, or bass, nor aptitude for counterpoint).
Making January exasperatingly more drear this year has been the lack of snow, beyond some flurries (in my area). I thought about children imagining shapes in the clouds on some of these recently, unusually warm days as they do in Spring and Summer. I imagined the children soon tiring of this, wishing those white, vaporous clumps would freeze and fall to earth, so they could use their mittened hands along with their imagination to do some “snow sculpting!”
In fact, the only thing white and close to the earth (except for those flurries some weeks back) I’ve seen, has been the smoke from some neighbors enjoying the blazing heat of their wood heaters (but that variety of white was rising, instead of falling).
I see from the current 10-day weather forecast for my area, that at a point, some days out, the prediction is: “rain/snow” for a day or two.” So, at least for now, my hopes of snow are put on hold, as the meteorological “wishy-washy” continues, probably resulting in a “wash” instead of a “wish.”
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