Jim McGuire: December changes everything


By Jim McGuire

Contributing Columnist

December is already almost two weeks old! Perhaps it’s just me, but during these final weeks of the year, both days and time always seem to mysteriously speed up.

Days whirl past like dry leaves before a wild north wind. The hands on the clock spin around crazily like those in a childhood cartoon.

This perceived annual acceleration began about a week before Thanksgiving and will doubtless continue in high gear until after New Year.

Bulging checklists and bloated schedules are the tether-points around which my life plays out. I wake up vaguely anxious, feeling as if I’m being carried along by a fast current—helpless flotsam, washing downstream…possibly heading for a cataract!

Confused and rushed, it’s easy to become distracted by the seasonal busyness and hoopla—to feel both a little surprised and a bit dismayed by how this twelfth month has arrived so quickly.

Unless I make a conscious effort to do otherwise, I’m often prone to overlooking December’s beauty and wonders.

Regardless of whether the fact of December’s advent is long expected or catches us entirely by surprise, its presence should be as welcome as it is necessary. It’s a unique and lovely month. And like those three wise men of long ago who followed the holy star, December comes bearing us many splendid gifts.

December is the darkest month of the year—that is, we have the fewest total hours of daylight allotted to us during the month. Since June’s solstice, our allotment of precious daylight has been slipping away, minute by minute, hour upon hour— illumination’s tide on the ebb.

Solstices are like apogees on a swinging pendulum. A place where time stops momentarily before reversing direction.

Thus December’s early days are alarmingly short. The sun seems reluctant to make its daily appearance, arriving increasingly late to scribe an ever lower arc across the sky before departing all too early. The light is dim, slanting down at an unfamiliar angle, and weak, as if the solar fires were running out of fuel and burning low.

No wonder the ancients feared this time of the year. Mankind has always feared that which he doesn’t understand or can’t control.

But, don’t worry. On the morning of the 21st—10 days hence—December will host its own countering solstice. The pendulum will reverse itself once more—slowing, stopping, restarting, heading back towards the light.

The pattern has always been there, of course, the waxing and waning of light and dark. Nature’s constant cycle. Birthplace of the seasons, whose cause is written in the stars and whose power impacts our wobbly planet.

We moderns have merely reduced the formerly inexplicable to a series of scientific mumblings regarding such matters as rotation speed, elliptical orbits and degrees of planetary tilt.

Meanwhile, the realm of night expands—the hungry darkness grows relentlessly fatter. December’s nights are as long as June’s days.

Yet these shorter days in no way imply less to see. There’s nothing whatsoever bleak about the month even on the coldest, grayest day.

Get out, take a walk. See for yourself.

If there’s a bit of frost on the ground, the whole world will sparkle—even on the gloomiest afternoon.

Brooks are often sheathed with ice—ephemeral, fragile panes, razor thin, their surface filigreed with the runes of the passing night wind.

A trio of cardinals flitting about a pasture cedar can inspire an entire morning. A flock of inquisitive chickadees can fulfill the day.

If it’s singing you want, the tree sparrow will happily oblige. Likely as not, a feisty wren will try to do him one better.

There will always be bluejays about, fussing long and loud over practically everything. Crows, too, equally raucous.

For comic relief, look up a nuthatch. Not only does he yammer like a bird with stuffy nasal passages, but he’s put together funny, dresses odd, and blithely walks headfirst down the sides of trees.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for seriousness, a measure of contemplative refuge and tranquility, head for the pines. Entering the midst of a December pine grove is like being in a fragrant green church—peaceful, profound, the perfect antidote to a morning spent trying to survive another bout of holiday shopping.

No, it isn’t a lack in December which causes us to think it bleak—to blindly rush headlong through its gift of wondrous days—it’s a lack in us. An unwillingness to readjust our expectations, slow down, change our way of looking and seeing, get back to the fundamentals.

December demands and deserves our attention. It’s not just a matter of giving respect, but a need on our part to occasionally relearn certain worthwhile lessons. To look inward, re-ground ourselves in matters as eternal as time and season.

December is the end consequence of our annual circular journey. A pivotal milestone. It’s the transition point where the passing solstice sets us to climbing back into the light.

So take the time to savor and celebrate. December changes everything!

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