We came back and it was winter.
Among the shrubs and evergreens, elms and oaks stand bare. The jungle out our window thins. In place of deep shade and tall green, there is a wide blank whiteness, veined with branches. In the woods, frost hardens things. It crunches underfoot, squishing dead leaves into still unfrozen mud. The dog roots around for deer droppings, discarded treats, and I stare through the flock of trees with leaves that seem to have been dipped in gold. They glint dully in the diffuse day.
This is the first new year without my mother in it—fifteen years into a century almost absolutely doomed. But it is a new year all the same, and it is cold and pure as Januaries ought to be. We see our breath, the dog’s breath, and the breath of engines making heat. We feel the bite of fresh-lunged wind.
It is a time for starting. For trudging forward up slippery hills. For the rush to beat the daylight from the forest, trotting home (with mastiff) through the gilded trees.
But even so the afternoons have waned, the sunsets paled. There’s a heavy quiet squatting on the house. Be that doubt, or fear, or grief—there is a long evening of winter still to make it through.