I have recently started a new collection of essays. I have no idea when they will be finished, or what they will exactly become. They are, like everything else in my life – a work in progress. However, the idea right now is to write a series of 12 essays – one for each month of the year. Posted below is an excerpt from ‘January’:
Darkness comes early. The waking hours are only slightly warmer than the night. A frozen, dirty crust banks the roads and sidewalks. It was at one time snow. But now, now it is an unrecognizable icy, oil caked, menace, a long term squatter and an eye sore that seems to be the longest lasting remnant of winter when all other signs of its dominance have yielded to the coming of spring. But now is not that time. Instead now, it is January. It is the deepest, darkest time of the year. A time of hibernation and daydreaming. Dreaming of longer, warmer, brighter days. Of pine trees and swaying aspens and dusty singletrack. Of sweat and early mornings above 10,000 feet.
It is, ironically, a time of renewal, of resolution, a calendar mandated new beginning. At the height of seasonal death and decay, we celebrate life anew. Happy New Year.
The daydreaming is an escape. Despite the fresh powder and the snow shoes and the ethereal white capped trees and the muffled silence of a mountain winter, there is still that need to displace oneself into an ideal of warmth and sand. The coming of summer is an eternal hope, one that generations from the very beginning of time have clung to, celebrated, and lived for. Summer, the polar opposite of January. The climax of light and heat. Summer, so far from this, the darkest and coldest month of the year. January.
And so I daydream. Of singletrack snaking through mountain meadows, on and on into thick forests of pine, through icy creeks and on into a horizon that could never be reached. I dream of the stifling, oppressive heat and the thick heavy air of a sticky July afternoon. I dream of the thunder and dark clouds and sudden rain of an August storm. I dream of short sleeves and dirt caked faces, white teeth glinting stupidly through dusty smiles. I see races and podiums against the stark and bland stare of my basement wall as I spin for hour after hour on the indoor trainer. I hear rushing waters and songbirds and warm morning wind while I climb that endless, pointless, destination-less stair master at the over crowded gym.
Commercial gyms love January. That spirit of renewal grips the populace like a fit of hysteria. Suddenly, despite decades of inactivity and slothful sedentary living, everyone is ready to shed the pounds and years of living like a rock, sitting idly and only moving when acted upon by another, stronger force. And so of course the gyms around the country thrive on the mass delusion of resolution. And each and every year, every January the cycle is repeated. But by March, as the ground begins to thaw and the days grow longer, the gym membership becomes more and more irrelevant. And not just for the resolution crowd, whose fiery zealotry for the treadmill has long gone cold and stale. No, by spring, I myself am looking for that break in the weather when the air changes, the temperatures rise and life overcomes the frozen clutches of annual death. But for now, I am content to stare again at the wall or the television or the throng of people hurrying along, rushing to nowhere while the rubber mat beneath their feet spins aimlessly.
January is not all cynical mockery. There are days in January that are worth the wait. There are those moments when feathery powder engulfs the entire body, surrounding it in a blanket of white, pillowy exaltation. A moment of terror and brilliance, where life and death seem equally as likely. And then the moment is gone and you are back to reality, speeding down the mountain with skis or snow shoes.
There are those pristine evenings when the sun melts into the horizon, the last of the light reflecting off the snow in a blue hazy fantasy world, like something out of a dream. There is the quieting of traffic and people when fresh snow covers the city, herding the masses into their homes, fleeing from the elements while the newly fallen snow illuminates the land, creating a surreal twilight out of the dead of the darkest of nights.
And best of all, there are the days in the desert.
There is a mythical and mystical brilliance about the vast, open, empty, thriving deserts of Utah. A land rich in history and red sand and stone. A land ancient and infant, unexplored, and yet welcoming in its hostility. That is, the remote solitude is both its danger and appeal. It is a land best enjoyed and experienced in the winter, when the mountains slumber under the snowy depths, and the heat of the desert retreats, becomes a tolerable, desirable, welcome change of climate after the months of summer heat. And again, January displays its irony. It is only in the dead of winter that we escape to the heat of the desert, in order to fully appreciate the heat of the summer.
Utah always has been a land of paradox.
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