Maybe all journeys should begin in January.

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A VG Serial: Hills of Eden

Episode 1

There is a stillness in these Ozarks hills.  A deep hush settles in the hollows as if the earth itself is holding its breath.  In the mist of a morning, it’s so quiet atop the ridge I can hear my heart beat as the echoes of my solitary footsteps die away, lost among the fallen dead leaves of the oak and hickories, now only skeletons themselves, bleak reminders of winter’s wan cast.

The cedars stand ghostly in the dim light of dawn, staggered down slope among the wispy shrouds of fog that cling to the rocks and stumps like shredded cotton batting, while the creek at the bottom, a thin thread of silver and beryl, seeps down to the smoking mirror of the pond.

And here we are in the month of Janus-faced January, what some call mid-winter.  I am reminded that the month is named after the Roman god, Janus, a single-headed deity with two faces, each looking in the opposite direction.  Janus was the god of gates and doorways, and over time, he became known as the god of new beginnings.  It seems an appropriate month to begin every new year and I suppose this is why I walk up to the ridge above the hollow and look down at the sleeping land below, to ponder how this year begins and get a sense of how it will flow and end.

As the mist rises and the sun burns away the fog, I walk up into the hardwoods that border a meadow that halts abruptly at a bluff outcropping.  There is the waterfall that feeds the little creek that flows into the mute pond where catfish and bass float like sleeping mobiles in a Paul Klee painting.  Once, I had a copy of the artist’s “Fish Magic” on the wall, facing the desk where I wrote poetry, stories and books.  I loved the print of this painting because I could go into those depths and become part of the underworld beneath the sea.  Now, beneath the bluff and its lacy waterfall, I can go into a January painting with its ever-shifting colors, its soft and golden play of light in that magical dell where I see the tracks of deer that have foraged for grass during the night, pulling the sear blades out of the ground to nibble the roots for nourishment.

Little wrens flit through the underbrush, little gray birds that I realize have followed me up here like small beggar urchins hoping for a handout.  But, I have no bread nor seed for them.  They will have to fend for themselves in this austere January world.  And they do, of course, feeding on insects I cannot see, hibernating grubs, perhaps, creatures that live through a winter as food sources in some mysterious plan.  The buzzards have gone south, like the ducks and geese, and doves, but there are squirrels in their dens and quail tracks along the stream that show me I am not the only one staying here in the hills to weather the season.

Part of the waterfall, the shady part, has frozen into a long gray beard.  Perhaps it resembles the beard of Janus himself, for it looks ancient and Roman, and there is a stateliness about it that harkens back to another age.  A couple of days ago, there was snow on the ground and the pond froze and the little creek, too, and I did not walk up this way.  The hills were garbed in ermine, and when the sun shone, the snow glittered as if it had been sprinkled with billions of crushed diamonds.  The little gray birds, ghost birds, I call them, were hard pressed to find sustenance and clustered around the feeder and birdbath like a flock of feathered mendicants at a free give-away.  They preened and pranced until they had slaked their thirst and filled their craws with seeds, then flew away, leaving only hieroglyphics in the snow.  Their tracks looked like cuneiform jottings on clay the color of cuttle bone.

I realize that January has a lot to offer the denizens of the Ozarks.  It feels like a beginning, not an ending.  It feels like an open gate, or a door into a world of discovery.  Here, in the vast silence of the woods, there are vague whispers of an autumn that has passed.  There is a carpet of oak leaves strewn along my path, and in the soft song of the breeze sighing through the cedars, perhaps a promise of a spring not far away once winter’s gelid breath has ceased to blow through these islands rising out of the fog early every morning.

Before I walked back home, I thought of Janus, January’s namesake.  I could see such a god, looking backward toward autumn, and forward toward spring.  The god of new beginnings.  Fitting to think such pagan thoughts on such a day in such a time in such a place.  The Ozarks have been that for many a soul, I knew.  A place of new beginnings.  And, maybe all journeys should begin in January.  Perhaps one of Janus’ faces would actually smile.

Hills of Eden will be published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Please click the title, Hills of Eden, to read more about Jory Sherman and his books.

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