A RURAL JANUARY - 15 DAYS
You'll be gone soon, and so will I. No time to harbor hurt feelings or line our pockets with the sorrows of the past. With every new year comes a brand new slate, a fresh piece of chalk, and sun enough for living. So let's move on.
January 1 – Don’t talk to me about new beginnings because a sparrow just fell. When stung a thousand times, each jab’s a little death; who can face the sharpness of moments?
January 2 – Six large round bales of alfalfa hay line a fence, and they’re covered in white; the sheep trudge to the far pasture to find grass then trudge back again and cry when they can’t find it. So I claw the snow away from the outermost bale and yank off the damp browned fodder, expose the fresh stuff, and call their names. I wonder how long before they try the back pasture again; I wonder how long before they figure out the fresh greens are gone until spring. A chicken’s brain is miniscule; a sheep’s is bigger but not much better at processing critical information.
January 3 – Along the confluence of Bear Creek, White River, and the Alaska Highway lies the now-unpopulated village of Snag, Yukon. Famously, this empty outpost reached North America’s lowest point on the thermometer on February 3rd, 1947, at an unthinkable −81.4 °F. “Locals stepped outside and their breath hissed as it froze mid-air before falling to the ground as white dust.” Is this a place or a temperature?
January 4 – This same road bored us last week. Now it’s mortal as a flush of pelicans over the lake at sunset. We push through sub rosa moments sprung on us in cold blood when our eyes are closed. We push through. That tree I painted on my bedroom wall reminds me of this, of consequentiality, of leaving, but it’s not a tree of life, it’s a gentle bang, wispy leaves floating on a breeze.
January 5 – Only a few hours in the barn and the chicken eggs freeze. Cold weather doesn’t ask permission. Ache is what these temperatures bring, and some dying. The Indigenous peoples couldn’t make it on linens and reeds alone; buffalo had to be taken, deer slain. We know those hides were warm; have you ever seen a buffalo shiver?
January 6 - The air is still, the road is quiet. It’s a perfect post-apocalyptic day but for the lack of a sooty sky.
January 7 – How easily a life goes wrong, a too-light pickup truck on a slippery road. And how rough to drag it from the ditch. Someone slides through the snow and muck, and jams the gear shift into neutral if the door isn’t stuck shut. Someone hooks a chain to the bumper or, more likely, the axle underneath. That truck gets marred, and so does the ditch. Clothes get wet and dirty. So we throw a few bags of weighty sand in the back end before leaving home, and pray for droughty lanes.
January 8 - Hair ice is a fungus produced when the temperatures hover around the freezing mark. Beautiful bunches of fine white strands on forest branches, the celestial scalp of an angel resting on earthen bark.
January 9 - After a bout of extremely cold weather, a swan was found swimming in Port Dalhousie, Ontario, in 2014 with its bill completely encased in ice. Luckily, animal services were notified and the swan was freed from its predicament, fed, and released. What this means is that if you have to keep dipping in winter’s water, at least part your bill a little along the way.
January 10 - The worst thing one can do is sit in a single spot and pretend she can dream up brilliance on her own steam. Gray matter squeezed into a confined shell is far from brilliant; what it needs is spark, a glacial blast along the face of a hot sun.
January 11 - Winter writhes along, and bodies fall. Every season claims its due. I carry buckets, dole out grain and catfood. Vehicles creak and groan arthritically. Time itself slows in step with the long hard freeze.
January 12 - Here’s a sky that has pleasured itself, lays content and a little messy. Every gray world masks something, and flattery is a trick of the sun. But when I last drove this road, the brown fields were browner, so I never blame the day.
January 13 - To breathe freer in the oxygen-rich air. To double layer coats and gloves. To navigate road-change, drive slower. To run a glove along the back of a wooly ewe thick with snow. To bake more than the other three seasons combined. To eat more pies and soups. To get housebound. To drink the hot, read the good, claim the bold.
January 14 - Lift your legs higher with snowshoes. Work harder in search of your dreams. You’re never too old to eat stale fruitcake when staring down the throat of a hungry wind.
January 15 - The upshot of pastoral living is a pristine sky above and a serene peace below. No matter how many cattle roam the fields, the colors warm. Perched atop a hill out back is one bare tree with a view, because nobody does a scene justice like Rural. So that’s it—the tip of the January iceberg—smarty pants skies, leafless totems, and the occasional ice on the bill that we hope someone will help us clear away.
Author's Commentary: Having been raised in a small town followed by living in a large metropolis for nearly two decades then moving rural again has been a defining experience for me. I can only hope to pass along to others some of the wonder and repose I feel each day in this setting.
German-born Chila Woychik has bylines in journals such as Silk Road, Storm Cellar, and Soundings East, and was awarded the 2016 Linda Julian Creative Nonfiction Award (Emrys Foundation). She craves the beautiful and lyrical, scours the pedestrian Iowan countryside for such, all while editing the Eastern Iowa Review.