The January night settles over our little valley with still and quiet sternness. I walk about the yard on evening chores and feel the weight of cold pressing through my coat, thrusting its icicle fingers up my nose. Tomorrow is the last day of the month and its passing is a thought not far from my mind.
Tonight we march into the coldest days of the season; now man and animal alike brace for the assault. The day is fading toward six in the evening but already the air bites with a sharpness that comes from temperatures below zero. The snow crunches beneath my boots with a sharp squeaky dry sound as I move on to my final task: collecting wood for the fire tonight.
The ground is hard and the path winds through the snow to the woodshed past the chicken yard and beyond the clothesline. The wood is running low, but it is dry and ready to crumble in burning heat against the days of cold which remain. I bring it inside, armload after armload.
Winter is not yet over, but it has aged past its prime. The days of bitter cold are numbered, and it is as if this truth has caused winter to muster its strength and batter us with its remaining fury. As daylight lengthens now with every passing week, hope grows. And tonight I think, “It will be over soon.”
The far horizon across the valley is limned a pale blue, like a final kiss from the passing day. I watch the fading light as I bring in the wood. The sight has an austere beauty against the darkening upper heavens. Tree limbs along the hill ridge reach and grasp against this retreating glimmer, the flight of day unstopped. It is peaceful, remote, and utterly unlike a summer evening.
Above, the stars come out sharp and clear, watching my trek. Each circuit of my journey brings me to the dark shed and then back to the light and warmth of the house. The cheerful kitchen light bursts from the windows across the snow-blanketed yard and each time I step inside the warmth greets me. My wife works on a delicious supper, and my little boy plays on the kitchen floor. We will stay warm together.
The winter night will pass and as sure as dawn comes, so will spring.
For now, there are the days of cold ahead, and this night. This will be a very cold night.