Completing the circle


By James McGuire

Contributing columnist

Well, we’ve done it again…spent another 365 days circling the sun.

Fifty-two weeks of wind and rain, ice and snow, sunshine and clouds, heat and cold, or whatever manner of mixed and changing weather—expected or not—came our way.

Along the looping course, there have been pastel spring wildflowers and multicolored autumn leaves, sweltering summer afternoons and freezing winter nights. Birds have sung, frogs croaked, cicadas buzzed, and wise old owls filled dark-shrouded nights with shivery hoots.

Yup, it’s been quite the journey—a roundabout odyssey both old and new, familiar and strange. The year of 2023 is over and 2024 stands ready to launch. Once again we’ve arrived at the betwixt and between juncture that’s both end and beginning, finish line and starting gate. But we made it! And that fact alone is reason enough to be grateful and celebrate.

At this point, you might be expecting me to blather some sort of recapping review of the past year. Or perhaps thinking I’ll consult some goose-bone oracles and prognosticate with astonishing detail and authority about what lies ahead along the trail taking us into our future.

I’m sorry to disappoint—but I’m sketchy as a historiographer and an undependable augur. Decades of attempts have revealed I’m hopelessly inept when it comes to both retrospectives and prophecies. Moreover, time after time, personal efforts at making and keeping resolutions have failed miserably—and typically tend to do so early on.

I know better than to put anything along such lines on the record.

Yet I do feel duty-bound to acknowledge our current situation. After all, we’ve now completed the full twelve-month journey through another year’s four-season iteration—spring, summer, fall, winter—and to me, that’s worth noting.

Years are rather odd chunks of time. While they do accurately measure the complete circle—a full round-about passage—they nowadays start and finish at a purely arbitrary point. There’s no valid reason, from either a naturalistic or scientific standpoint, that dictates this exact point as a logical spot to end a year or begin one.

Winter officially took over from autumn ten days ago, at the time of the passing solstice. And from that singular moment hence, every successive day has delivered unto us a smidgin of additional daylight.

In every way that makes any sense to me, that was the moment when a brand new year began.

The great celestial clock’s pendulum changed directions; tick became tock. Seasonal perimeters were reset—yet the year trickled on for a few more days, like a leaky faucet that keeps dripping a while before finally shutting off.

Seasons have their valid astrophysical borders of solstices and equinoxes. Likewise, a year can be accurately measured by the number of passing days—single 24-hour revolutions of our spinning earth—required to complete the elliptical voyage around our life-giving star. A good argument can easily be made that our years—those circumnavigating journeys—should also commence at the same astrophysically measurable moment—i.e., the winter solstice.

Months are merely whimsical groupings of days—given a name, allotted a number of days, and placed in the circling queue by a long-dead emperor and king. In truth, this doorway we’re about to step through is imaginary, nonexistent except in the way we like to subdivide things as an aid to record keeping. There’s no basis or reason for it being where it is—which is why we always embark on a new year soon after winter gets underway and finish our annual trip just as next year’s winter is getting started.

We never experience winter in its seasonal entirety within the same calendar year—though there’s no shortchanging involved. We’ll still manage to get our allotted dose of winter.

While I hate to be the bearer of bad news, if you’re not a winter fan, the worst—and bulk—of winter is yet to come!

I happen to enjoy winter. I like the shorter days and long cozy evenings around the woodstove. I like the winter fare of soups and stews and homemade breads. And I like bundling up and going out— in daylight or dark—for long walks through a snowy landscape.

A typical Ohio winter reflects its Great Lakes Region location. Balmy isn’t the expected norm. Sleet and snow, howling winds, sub-zero nights, frozen waters, and the occasional arctic blizzard are what you expect.

You have to have the proper Buckeye mindset—and you need to pay attention. I don’t think I’m being paranoid by always viewing any unseasonably mild interlude between now and April as a sly weather trap—a tease for the inexperienced and unwary.

Ohio’s weather is notoriously fickle. Come winter, this mercurial tendency can prove malicious—even dangerous. It’s foolish to be unprepared. That cheery blue sky can suddenly turn dark and ugly; winds can shift and intensify in minutes; temperatures can plummet.

There can be 6 inches of ice and snow blanketing roads and parking lots in the time it takes to make a contemplative pass through the grocery store.

Being woefully underdressed is not the sort of impromptu survival adventure I enjoy. Shivering and shaking, trying to prevent freezing to death while slip-sliding my vehicle homeward is not my idea of fun.

The good news is that spring is on the way. Yes, winter’s bulk still lies between us and that glorious green relief—but it’s still out there, and getting closer every single day.

Winter’s passing solstice insured that hope. What goes around comes around. Each and every day serves up a soupçon more sunlight—and light brings change. This is, after all, a circular journey.

Keep the faith!

Happy New Year!

Reach the writer at [email protected]

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