December 31, 2011:
The masses for St. Stephen and the holy infants and St. John, for the Holy Family and, on the first day of the new year, the holy Mother, shimmer with reds and golds, brocade and candle light and bells. The Christmas octave is rich with traditions that do not depend upon the cooperation of the weather. Still, our hearts were lifted when, through the pier glass flanking the great bas-relief behind the altar at the convent of the Sorrowful Mother, flurries of snowflakes obscured the winter-grey hills. Outside our feet printed black on the white-powdered walk, but the thin clean snow was gone before night.
Winter seems not to have arrived yet. The winds that shredded needles out of the Norfolk spruces this afternoon and showered them all over the valley was the warm, blustering wind of a March day, and the overwintering birds were deluded into giving us their spring songs. Taking a long path through the woods we squelched through mud thick with boot prints – hunters have been here – overlaid by the sharp v’s of deer prints, and the tiny child-hand prints of raccoons tempted from their semi-hibernation by the smells of damp leaves and spring beauties. We wonder, when the seasons shuffle themselves like a deck of cards, whether anything will be lost in the mix, whether the real spring when it comes will be poorer for the outlay it is making now, as the old year dies.
Canning jars are like the laundry, which is never done because there is always some on, some off, and some in the wash. The ebb and flow of glass quart jars full and empty is unending. Even in the winter there is food to put by, this week the culled hens, of course, but today as well eleven quarts of strawberry jam made from berries frozen last spring when there was not time to jam them. The smell in the house was like confectionery, and the jars set upside down on the counter to seal glowed with the reds of rubies and garnets. These are especially welcome in a year when the apples and grapes made poor picking, and one grows tired of honey. S-6, who is four years old, clasps his Christmas polar bear to his chest and announces, overflowing with love, “Mom, I love you better than sugar!”