The quiet joys of January

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa spp.). Photo by Naomi Sachs

Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa spp.)

This past Sunday, New Year’s Day, The New York Times ran a great piece about quiet (“The Joy of Quiet,” by Pico Iyer). I can relate. Though I live in the Hudson Valley where it gets pretty cold this time of year (12 degrees Fahrenheit when I woke up this morning), and though I’m a gardener who loves digging in the dirt in my spare time (back to that in a minute), I think that January has become my favorite month. Because it’s quiet. As a landscape designer who does not do installation, most of my work is indoors, even in the busiest times of year (I wonder if Ken Smith‘s family still asks him why he doesn’t have dirt under his fingernails with all that “landscaping” he does…). But clients never call in January and February, and installation doesn’t need to be supervised, etc. etc. etc., and just generally I can worry less about juggling my design work and my work with the TLN. Ironically, the only time when I seem to have spare time is when the ground is frozen solid…

This morning, as the sun was rising over Mount Beacon, the sky a mottled, low canopy of pale greys, blues, and yellows, I watched the squirrels in my front garden. This is a tough time of year for them. It’s cold, food is scarce, water is frozen. Still, they soldier on. Two squirrels busied themselves scratching at the ice that forms in a sculpture given to us by an artist friend, a giant black ceramic bowl made during a residency at Kohler. Two others scampered down the trunk of one of our 100+ year old white oak trees, gathering up clumps of oak leaves and dried grass which they then held in their mouths as they scampered back up the trunk, and onto a limb, and onto another smaller limb, and down into a hole where they disappeared (to what I imagine is a very warm, cozy nest), to then reappear and start the process all over again. I watched their routine three times before sitting down to write this post.

Hoarfrost, January 4, 2012

Hoarfrost, January 4, 2012

We all push ourselves so hard. In work and play, at the office and at home, as parents and children, as students and teachers. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what brings us joy – not just pleasure, but deep, nurturing joy – unless we take time to listen carefully. For me, this is the best time of year for that. Connecting to nature outside always helps me to tap into what’s inside, to hear and feel the quiet. I’m fortunate to have two dogs who force me – even on days when I reeeeally don’t want to leave the house – to get out there in it, and I’m almost always grateful. No matter the season, there is always so much to see and appreciate. And when I’m inside, I enjoy looking out at the garden, all tucked in for the winter but still yielding fruit, water, and shelter for the birds and other small creatures that never cease to amaze me with their antics and industry. Even just watching the light change over the course of the day, or as a storm moves in, can be enough.

Agnes and Boo, waiting patiently.

Agnes and Boo, waiting patiently.

Winter has her charms. If nature had a high school, summer would be the popular girl. And winter would be the quiet beauty, gazing out the window, making sketches and writing poetry, seeing it all and taking it in. She may not be obvious, but she is deep.

The glaucus mauve of black raspberry canes. Photo by Naomi Sachs

The glaucus mauve of black raspberry canes

Ironically, when I finish this, I will post it on the TLN’s Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn pages, where it will join all of the other information noise that bombards us every day. But perhaps the message, like the article from the Times that inspired me and many others, will make up for it? Which really, after all of these words, is this: Yes, winter is hard, and I’ll rejoice along with the best of them when spring arrives. But it can also be a gift. Take the time and the quiet that winter offers, and enjoy every moment of it that you can.