DEC. 21 was the winter solstice. This is hard to find on calendars anymore. The date we celebrate Christmas each year, which might be a legacy from pagans - who better understood these things and moved gigantic stones around to say so - is always there in bold print, perhaps because of madcap shopping. I don't recall any shopping frenzies built around the shortest day of the year.
Just after Christmas, with New Year's not far behind, we had a cold spell. It was 10 below zero one morning; 12 the next. This is not counting wind chill, a recent phenomenon (well, "recent" in my terms, which means "not geezer-speak.") Here is where I digress, one of the benefits of being the longest-running columnists in this newspaper (39 years and counting), beaten only by Stacey Cole, who's been running in the New Hampshire Union Leader (different paper, same corporation) for 50 years. I'm fond of telling Stacey that I'll never catch up.
Stacey has a book out, "Stacey Cole's New Hampshire: A Lyrical Landscape," which I will get as soon as I can glom onto one. He is an astute observer and a wonderful writer, and a friend.
"Wind chill" was formerly reserved for Antarctic explorers and weather geeks. Now it has crept into common use. These days, when I see a news story about it being 40 below in Billings, Mont., I want to rush for the phone and ask, "Are they talking about the raw temperature or counting the wind?" Raw temperature, by the way, is when you dash from camp to the outhouse and come back raw, having left part of your epidermis on the seat.
The dry snow, at about 8 below, squeaked under my boots as I went out to heave ungainly and heavy pieces of hardwood, stump pieces at about 100 pounds, into the outdoor furnace. "Don't worry," I said to all who would listen, which were few, when I went into LaPerle's IGA to get grub and the Union Leader and the New York Times, all staples. "We've passed the low point, and spring is not far behind." This does not play well in Podunk.
On Christmas Day, I called friends and family, the former shrinking as time and gravity take their toll, the latter increasing with the new life of Easter to come. One branch of budding family is in California, entrepreneurs soaking up sun and speaking Spanish and more, traveling the world, another based in Washington and speaking Russian and headed for Ukraine. All this humbles the increasingly wizened guy (me) on the 45th Parallel who speaks only Yankee and halting French.
So far, among my gang of friends, after 40 years of hanging out together, going to camp, fishing and hunting, traveling to Labrador a thousand miles north from my doorstep, hurling ourselves all over the continent and beyond, we have lost only one of our number, not bad for an extended party of fools - young and old.
We all know what the New Year might bring, gravity and time unrelenting, but fling ourselves around and dance under the stars nonetheless.
And I, having just pushed another 4 or 5 inches of snow away from the furnace, heaved another few pieces of 50-year-old stored solar power into the furnace's gaping maw and crunched my way back to the barn, wish readers near and far the best for the New Year and beyond.
John Harrigan's address is Box 39, Colebrook 03576. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org