By the twentieth of December, it seemed our long, long summer was gone at last: a low of seventeen degrees and a high barely in the thirties. Even the big old dog, who considers the hope of a walk the only legitimate reason to heave himself out of bed these days, merely raised an eyebrow at the jingle of leash fastenings. Out in the woods, morning fog froze along every tiny branch and twig and tangled vine; at first glance it looked as though the palest, thinnest shadow of snow had fallen on Middle Tennessee. For a few days, brown leaves in the birdbath froze and then re-froze when darkness fell again after each mild, midday surface thawing—ice measuring the cold snap in layers of visible time, like rings in the cross-section of a tree trunk.
For it turned out to be only a cold snap in the end: less than a week later, a temperature of seventy-six broke Nashville’s record Christmas Day high, set in 1889. Mele Kalikimaka, y’all.
The days are getting longer now, the brain knows, but to the body the first dark day of January never feels like a time of beginnings. And as a hard year ends, such a whiplash of seasons in the space of a single month—summer and winter and spring, with a day or two of autumn peeking out shyly from behind summer’s skirts—has made me think of Robert Frost’s famous allegory of the apocolypse, “Fire and Ice”: