The frost performed its secret ministry last night, but the air temperature today will climb into the fifties.  No sense singing “please have snow.”  There won’t be any, though we might legitimately hold out hope for mistletoe.  Kissing remains popular, and should, even in unseasonably warm weather.

My thoughts turn of their own accord toward my father this time of year.  It was even warmer four years ago when, on the 23rd of December, he made a final exhalation.  I was racing across Illinois to be at his bedside.  I remember seeing the number 63 on the dashboard as we crossed into Michigan.  That was warm for December.  And I remember thinking the times were out of joint, even as I whispered across the miles that he should give it up if he needed to.  No need to hold out on my account.

I didn’t make it—and did.  The air went out of him about two minutes before I arrived; I took him by the wrist and felt one last feeble heartbeat.  He’d saved that much for me. He was generous to the end—and maybe a little stubborn too.

But this year it’s the damned heat more than anything else that triggers the memory.  How like four years ago it seems.  I am going to go ahead and account it unnatural that, for the past two days, I have been working on equipment without the need of a winter coat or gloves.  I’m not saying that the air temperature in my little township has global significance.  I’m also not saying it doesn’t.  I think it necessary, and necessarily conservative, to accept the judgment of the climate-watchers; I remain skeptical about the future they so confidently model.  The Inevitable doesn’t generally get much purchase on me.  What does is loss, the feeling that something good—maybe even salubrious seasons—is going away. 

What I know for sure on this Christmas day is that I am four years closer to being dead than I was in 2015, when on the wings of a greenhouse gas I lost a battle against time, stepped into my parents’ house, and saw the glazed eyes.  “The eyes glaze once, and that is death,” said Dickinson,

Impossible to feign
The beads upon the forehead
By homely anguish strung.

I suppose it is good to be reminded that we will lose all battles against time, but better still not to speak of battles at all.  The relation of consciousness to time isn’t quite as bellicose as all that.  To speak of a battle, in which one side might win as much as the other might, would be to assume that the one real inevitability isn’t inevitable at all, when of course it is. For 

Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore,
So do our minutes hasten to their end.
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend.

Better, maybe, to say, “And time, that gave, doth now his gift confound.”

There is such “aching pleasure nigh” this time of year:  in the crackle of the fire in the hearth, in the lights and colors and music, in the blessings of the board, in the heart that grows three sizes, in the being home, in the theoretical snow.  Joy works for one reason only, near as I can tell:  because its “hand is ever at his lips, / Bidding adieu.”  We can’t have it on any other terms.  It’s always on its way out. Too soon the mistletoe will be a garland, and the lips beneath it cold.

Therefore let gratitude season the meat; let it be the garnish in the drink.  Let none of us fail in the offices of thanksgiving.  No snow? At least there was frost this morning.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night, into which let none go gentle.  Rage against the dying of the light.

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Jason Peters
Jason Peters professes English at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, where he teaches courses in Milton, the Catholic novel, Environmental literature, British Romanticism, and American literature prior to 1900.  While in Illinois he pines for the mysterious and musical tea-colored trout streams of his native Michigan, whither he is trying to repatriate full-time in order to raise cattle and chickens, make beer, and scourge the follies of higher ed.  (Read an attempt here.) His work has appeared in such places as the ­Sewanee Review, the South Atlantic Quarterly, English Language Notes, Explicator, American Notes and Queries, Christianity and Literature, Orion, First Principles, University Bookman, and the Journal of Religion and Society. He is also the editor of Wendell Berry: Life and Work (University Press of Kentucky 2007), Land! The Case for an Agrarian Economy, by John Crowe Ransom (University Press of Notre Dame, 2017), and co-editor of Localism in the Mass Age: A Front Porch Republic Manifesto (FPR Books, 2018). Currently he is building a fly rod and juggling just enough writing projects to prevent his completing any of them: an account of his repatriation efforts (tentatively titled Dispatches from Dumb-Ass Acres, by a Dumb Ass), another book on Wendell Berry, another on food (tentatively titled The Culinary Plagiarist: (Mis)Adventures of a Thieving Gourmand), and yet another on that neglected genius, Owen Barfield. He has tried to break life-long debilitating addictions to basketball and golf but has been woefully unsuccessful. Peters visits Rock Island on school days but otherwise lives in Williamston, Michigan, with his longsuffering wife, their three children, and his two arthritic knees.

3 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you, Dr. Peters, (and all the writers here at FPR), for the gifts you bring throughout the year. The “art of loading brush”, in all we do, creates a reverence that our popular culture ignores. These writings may bring this appreciation to those who have yet to experience it, and can be a wonderful reminder for those who may be distracted from it.

    I would especially express my appreciation to you for allowing swear words, while artfully loading brush, when one realizes they failed to check the trailer’s tire pressure back at the barn.

    Merry Christmas!

    Charlie Daniell

  2. For lo, the days are hastening on…

    Missed this over the holiday, as I was offline, but it’s a fine tonic. The unseasonable weather here too contributed to a larger lack of festiveness that was, alas, partly my own fault: I fear I did not “keep Christmas well.”

    In any case, this piece is a nice reminder of what’s most important about the Day, which is dependent on neither mood nor weather!

  3. Well, don’t know about you guys, but if we here in Pennsylvania, like you, missed out on a white Christmas, Providence did manage to deliver unto us a white New Year’s. We woke up to about an inch of snow yesterday morning, which gave everything a nice white sparkle. Of course it was mostly all gone by mid-afternoon, but still….

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