January: a sense of peace, and anticipation
As we leave the calendar year and a sense of celebration, we are headed to a season of rest – a season of quiet, reflective peace. Even though January can be known for its fierce winter winds and weather, it also carries with it a sense of peace. On the island, this essence of peace comes wrapped in white and/or blue.
If a January storm comes our way it is inevitably followed with a layer of snow and/or snow drifts of curlicued alabaster, running parallel to stone walls. Or, a dry winter storm can whip the surrounding sea into a multi-hued mosaic of blue: aquamarine, blue teal, royal and azure. A frothy blue meringue with ivory crests, or, steaming with a wispy layer of sea smoke. These weather patterns can drive us inside to embrace a cocoon of peaceful warmth. However, for some, the same phenomena can entice one outside to devour the day in all its rawness – at least for a little while. January can provide a sense of peace; it can also instill a sense of anticipation: thus, is the two-sided face of January.
I must admit to being a lover of January. I find the peace that I feel all around the island in January irresistible: a seemingly quiet time of year. But as January progresses, I sense a change from rest to expectation. As the month of January days progresses, they skip between days of calm reflection and days ignited by a desire to embrace the simplicity of a new day with curiosity, and a belief that a new perspective on the familiar will appear. For instance, it is in January that I am likely to notice a different view, a stream, or new color of lichen along an often-walked path and wonder why I never noticed it before.
January is a month of reflection: both on the past and the possibilities of the future.
As we take time for a winter’s rest, we must awaken alert to shifts of the season. The climate is changing - will January sparkle with white and indigo, or will the cloak of tawny fields buttoned with winterberry red and bayberry gray persist? A good way to monitor the progression of January is to plan a weekly walk that is a little longer than your usual “daily constitutional,” and perhaps in a location that is, again, not your usual. (See some suggestions in the micro-season descriptions below, and remember always wear orange
even though the suggestions are in non-deer hunting areas.)
Let us all find a sense of peace in January. And then, let us come slowly to a rested, mid-winter sense of anticipation: seeing familiar patterns, but with a ready eye for new perspectives.
In this year-long series of monthly articles I have taken to heart the truth that each season is not a three-month period but rather a continuum of micro-seasons (each about five days long) that more specifically express the nuanced and varied nature of any sea-
son. Like the season of one’s life, it is the rich assortment and accumulation of discrete flourishing that make the whole being – or the whole season.
Inky Night Skies & Snowy Owl: December 31 – January 4
The first week of January, with its late sunrises, means that the night reigns supreme. Both barn owls and snowy owls are about the island. Although snowy owls are often seen during the day, they are also nocturnal feeders, as are barn owls. The New Long Night Moon will occur on January 2, at 1:33 p.m. The Quadrantids Meteor Showers will peak on the evening of Jan. 3 to 4 – since this is just past the New Moon, and assuming clear skies, the viewing should be great. The Lowest Clam Tides will occur on January 2 and 3 at approximately 2 p.m. Walk suggestion: a low tide walk from Andy’s Way to the channel entrance at Beane Point.
Pupping Seals & Blazing Sunrises: January 5 - 9
Although the island is not considered to be an established seal-pupping area, a few gray seal pups have already been spotted on the island’s shores. January is considered the end of the gray seal pupping season for the Eastern Atlantic region. If you see a seal pup on the beach give it wide berth – they do not enter the water for the first couple of weeks. Rather the mother will nurse and protect the baby on land.
The year’s latest sunrises will occur December 30 to January 7 at approximately 7:12 a.m. – thus the most likely time of the year to see blazing sunrises, often rivaling sunsets which you may be more likely to be awake for.
Winter ducks are the predominant group of birds to be seen in January – but certainly not the only. Great blue herons are sticking around in numbers this year. And this is the time of year that snow geese and tundra swans (both exquisitely white birds) are likely
to show up: none have been seen yet.
Walk suggestion: a late afternoon Crescent Beach walk from the Surf Hotel to Clay Head.
Time of Drifting Snow, Icicles & Sea Smoke: January 10 – 14
Mid-January has become the most likely time for frigid temperatures and hard freezes. Be aware of the need for comfort and sustenance for all animals, including humans. Walk suggestion: a walk through the center of Rodman’s Hollow, where the hillsides will shield you from the wind.
Jaunty Chickadees: January 15 – 19
In deep winter, animals that are not in hibernation must stay active and be constantly on the search for food, and thus they can appear to be quite lively and frisky. Keep an eye out for jaunty chickadees, rapping woodpeckers, whistling cardinals, chattering finches, scolding wrens and raucous blue jays among the trails and at your bird feeders. The Full Owl Moon will occur at 6:45 p.m. on January 17. Walk suggestion: a morning walk in the Clay Head Trails from the Hodge Preserve parking area to the bluffs. This is best done on non-deer hunting days.
Shaggy-coated Deer: January 20 – 24
Some say that this is the time of the January Thaw, after which the back of winter is broken. However, things are different these days. Humans have exacted a terrible toll on earth’s climate. As I write this, Seattle, Wash. is suffering through snow and sub-freezing temperatures previously more commonly known in New England; and we are still waiting for our ponds to freeze. In spite of actual on-the-ground temperatures, deer are sporting wonderfully shaggy, insulating coats. Walk suggestion: an afternoon walk from
Settler’s Rock to Sandy Point – but don’t disturb the seals... Walk suggestion: The greenway trail from Cherry Tree Hill to Old Mill Road.
Venus the Morning Star: January 25 – 29.
January nights can be cold and dry, resulting in amazingly clear, crystalline night skies. The favorite winter constellations of Orion, Sirius, Taurus, Pleiades and others are easily seen in the sky before bedtime. The planet Venus is bright and low in the west-
ern sky at nightfall in the first part of January, and is known as the “Evening Star.” However, due to the wandering nature of planets, Venus shifts by the end of January to being visible in the wee hours of the night before dawn, and is then known as the “Morning
Star.” Walk suggestion: The greenway trail from the Island Cemetery to Beacon Hill Road and return by the paved road found at either end of Beacon Hill Road.
To share with others your sense of peace and anticipation for the new year, join one of The Nature Conservancy’s many January programs: Go to www.Natureblockisland.org for the schedule.