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So Long, Dark Months

So Long, Dark Months
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Welcome to the January 2011 edition of
“Jud’s New England Journal,” the rather
curious monthly musings of Judson Hale,
editor-in-chief of Yankee Magazine,
published since 1935 in Dublin, New Hampshire.

So Long, Dark Months

Yes, the amount of daylight is finally increasing. Hooray!

I love the arrival of January. The holidays are over; a bright new year is under way; but, most of all, I love the fact that the two darkest months, November and December, are at long last behind us.

I keep a copy of The Old Farmer’s Almanac on our breakfast table, and every morning I glance at the appropriate calendar page. I like to know how we’re “situated,” astronomically speaking, each day. For me, it serves to put things in perspective.

“Oh, how lovely,” I’ll likely think to myself on, say, January 2, 2011. “We’ll have one more minute of daylight today.” Then I’ll skim down to the end of the month and see that the sun will be setting 33 minutes later by then. That’s more than a whole half-hour! My day has had a great start.

Another thing about January I like is that this is the month when the big New England lakes finally freeze solid. Sure, small ponds, shallow lakes, and swamps have been iced in for weeks, but lakes such as New Hampshire’s Winnipesaukee don’t usually freeze over completely until after New Year’s.

Once the ice is solid, out come the icehouses, and small, crudely painted wood signs appear saying simply Shiners. That’s information enough for ice fishermen seeking live bait. The skates come out, too, and the iceboats, snowmobiles, and, during “normal” winters, cars and pickups.

“What does it take to drive a car out on this lake?” a man once asked my friend and barber, Bill Austin, and me one day as we stopped briefly on the shore of the mainland after having driven over from my island cottage on Winnipesaukee.

“Oh, usually just a couple of beers,” Bill replied, a twinkle in his eye as usual. He was joking, but I must say my first drive out onto the lake each winter years ago was at close to full speed — and with my left arm holding the car door open. In recent years, however, I’ve been content to ski or walk over to the island. Maybe one becomes less adventuresome with advancing age. Or maybe the winters are becoming warmer, too — and the ice thinner.

Finally, have you noticed that toward the end of January your town road agent begins to wave at people passing by, particularly those he recognizes as voters in the town? That’s a great early sign of good times ahead. It means, of course, that town elections and town meetings are only a little more than a month away. And not long after that … SPRING!

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So Long, Dark Months

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