The snow is falling in a heavy, fine powder. It swirls through the branches of the old sugar maple in our backyard, and spreads its crisp white sheet over the great swathes of leaves I never managed to rake. The birdfeeders beyond the kitchen window are swarmed by scores of pine siskins, with the odd slate-colored junko added to the mix for contrast. Only their frenzied tracks mar the surface of the snow - not even the sidewalk plow has churned its way down the street - and later the children will dash outside, catching flakes on their tongues and making fallen angels here on Earth.
It is a good day for the last day of the year. It is the kind of day where, to paraphrase Frost, the mind skates circles around itself as it moves, plucking the strings of memory in a slowly spinning vortex. New Year's Eve is my least favorite Holiday: all style and denial and pitched toward the young and fabulous. I suppose I could be seduced by a night of glitter and light, a swing band riffing on the Nutcracker as we step out in suave and sequined splendor. Pyramids of champagne burst into airy nothing while all the city shimmers in the ebon dark and revelers gorge on beluga and oysters and Brie.
But those Winter Palace Romanovs on Wall Street and the silver screen are dancers in a hollow shell. Not every bursting bubble is Champagne. Fabergé stopped making eggs in 1917 when the Red curtains came down. Fantasies of sleek limbs and sequins do not reflect what I see in the mirror, and tonight will be another New Year's Eve spent at home and not at the ball, let alone watching it drop on the old year like the proverbial other shoe. What we have done, and left undone, abides and broods when left to their own devices.
Those moments when we can look both back and forward with hopeful peace of mind cannot be scripted. Nostalgia and melancholy leave their tracks where snowflakes go to lose themselves. But grace comes unexpectedly at the turning of the year, brings you up short like the first intake of breath on a icy morning. It comes and curls into the crook of your arm with boundless faith in your security. It glistens where water wisps glaze the trees above the freezing river. It is slick and sheer like black ice on a windswept lake, brittle like starlight, soft like snow in a silent forest.
If we must have a date where we carve another notch in our walking sticks, let it be the darkest night of the year when we look to the light returning. Let it be the crackle of fire and dancing shadows beneath the winter trees. Life is not linear. Time to step outside.