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Winter 2009 Message from Dan

Dear Readers, Friends, and Other Visitors:

November in Colorado is the month when bald eagles and rough-legged hawks arrive. (I don’t know where the smooth-legged hawks are during this time – home shaving their legs, probably.)

November is also the month when snow geese sometimes join the large flocks of Canada geese that don’t seem to migrate through Colorado anymore, just move in great honking V’s from one lake or reservoir to another. I admit that I’ve never noticed the snow geese, but the bird people tell me they’re up there with the Canada geese.

November is also the month when baseball and daylight savings time end and death, darkness, and decay descend over everything forever – or at least until catchers and pitchers report in late February of the following year. Which is the same as forever. (I knew I had SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – long before some tinhorn psychologist strained his or her creative faculties to the breaking point to come up with the stupid acronym. How did I know? These damned early sunsets and long nights and short, cold days and total lack of the one sport that humankind got right made me sad.)

November was the month where we all looked forward to the Leonid meteor showers, which peaked around Nov. 14th. Then the Adromenid showers that fell between the 17th and 27th; and let us not omit the Orionid meteor showers around Nov. 19th.  The idea is to go outside in the wee hours of the November night – don’t forget to dress warmly so you don’t freeze your aspirations off – and stand there hoping to get struck by one of the meteors to put you out of your freezing, base-ballless misery.

In November and December and January and February we are all – except for the vodka thing – Russians. (This should explain your sudden urges to invade Georgia or Poland or Ukraine.)

Sunrise here on November 1 was 6:28 a.m. MST; sunset on Nov. 1 was at 4:58 p.m. MST.

The average maximum temperature on Nov. 30 where I live most of the time down here on the flatlands of Boulder County along the Front Range is 50 degrees Fahrenheit; the average minimum temperature is 26 degrees Fahrenheit.

Up at my Windwalker Cabin (also in Boulder Country, but 40 minutes away from my flatland home and at 8,400 ft. of altitude) the average maximum temperature on Nov. 30 is 44 degrees; average minimum temperature there is 21 degrees. Average November snowfall at our Front Range home is 10 inches; at Windwalker the average snowfall is 17 inches. (But your mileage may vary. Last year, there was almost no snow down here on the flatlands in November. This year, we’ve already had several real snowfalls, including one modest blizzard, in October. This is why God, in His infinite wisdom, had the Rockies fall to the Phillies in the first round of the National League divisional playoffs.)

To those of us of a certain age, the leafless tree-shadows in late-November light remind us not only of Thanksgiving, but of the assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. It was the first national trauma that was shared nationally via television and a greater trauma than anything since then except perhaps 9/11. (And many people I know have shown an amazing ability to put 9-11 totally behind them, almost as if it didn’t happen, which few Americans did in the decade and more after the murder of President Kennedy. It shocked the nation to the seat of its meat.)

This November was the one-year anniversary of the election of Barack Obama. I voted for Obama. Election night and Obama’s acceptance speech from Grant Park in Chicago was a moving and uniting experience for most of the nation. Of that, I have no doubt.

But now, one year later . . . .

Don’t worry, I won’t get into politics. There’s enough of that on the “Hot Button Issues” section of my forum here. But I will say that this one-year-later November of 2010 was disturbing. Anger and division and suspicion and breakdown of traditional political dialogue runs deeper in the country than any time I can remember since the end of the 1960’s during the depths of the Vietnam War days. Recent choices, decisions, and directions by the president and party we voted into power last year have polarized me in ways I haven’t felt since the late-1960’s . . . demanding some action. It’s just harder now to find the proper venue for constructive political action, but I shall. I suspect many other people – on both sides of many of these issues of war, peace, and the economy – will as well in the coming months and years.

It makes me sad.

But then, the long shadows from leafless trees in the shortening days of late November have always been an invitation to some form of mild melancholia – whether pleasant (as in the Japanese aesthetic sense) or unpleasant (as in the depressed-as-hell sense).1

One anniversary that is pleasant for Karen and me is that it’s been three years now since we moved into our new home down here on the flatlands of the Front Range – we closed on Halloween of 2006 and moved in shortly before Thanksgiving.

I’d just written a Message from Dan about architecture and about our plans to completely remodel our mountain home at Windwalker three years ago when we found this new house down here – so the money went into this home (which, unlike Windwalker, has no name) and although we worked with a great young architect for the mountain home remodel and have all the plans and county and other permits, actual work up there is still pending until and if our budget will allow.2

This home was a surprise. We’d looked for a home in Santa Fe for almost a year, decided not to move there for various reasons (although it remains one of our favorite cities in America), and were preparing for the Windwalker remodel when we stumbled across this new house still in Boulder County but technically not in the city we lived in before. It’s a beautiful home – built in the Frank Lloyd Wright “prairie style” – and the builder, Gary W., was and is a perfectionist. If the texture and grain of the wood wasn’t perfect, he’d have the carpenter tear it out and start over. If the tiles, say in each bathroom in the house, weren’t laid perfectly and distinctively (a different interesting design in each bathroom) – again, he’d start over. The result was that where most builders in Boulder County in this price of home were building ten to thirty homes to make their profit, Gary W. built one to two.

The house is not only lovely, to our eyes, but liberating in a variety of ways and the way we discovered it is part of that liberation.

Three years ago this past May, when our daughter Jane and I asked Karen what she wanted for Mother’s Day, Karen said, “To walk the newly completed trail around Macintosh Lake.”

Macintosh Lake was actually a large reservoir – 3 ½ miles around – on the west side of town with half the lake being inside the city, surrounded by homes and parks, and the other half bordering farmland and pastures. The view of the Front Range of Colorado from there is fantastic. We were familiar with Macintosh Lake even though we had to drive across town from our previous homes in the “Old Section” of town to get there, because we’d walked there with Jane when she was little. The park there had a great little playground. Also, for a year or so when Jane was about four, her favorite gift was a Swedish “horse harness” with bells. When she wore the little harness she became Uni the unicorn and whenever Uni trotted – blonde pony tail bouncing – whoever was on the other end of the little cloth harness had to trot along behind to keep up.  I trotted a lot of miles in the park on the southeast side of Macintosh Lake behind Uni the unicorn in those days.

But now the city had extended a walking trail all the way around the lake and Karen wanted to walk it with us to celebrate Mother’s Day 2006. And so we did.

And many days after that through that summer, usually around sunset, Karen and I would return to walk the three-and-a-half miles and as we enjoyed the view 70 miles up and down the Front Range of mountains, we’d say the same thing to ourselves – “We’ve lived in this town for thirty-two years but haven’t had a real view of the mountains like this for most of that time. What’s wrong with us?”

So that autumn, instead of moving to Santa Fe or rebuilding the Windwalker cabin, we bought Gary W.’s beautifully built home here  -- a prairie-style home on a small knoll on the edge of the prairie in a very small community of differing but beautiful homes, the mini-community connected by a long central knoll or commons. This year our neighborhood voted to allow the acres of grass of grass on the commons knoll to grow as high as it wanted to. When people crossed the knoll on foot to come to our second year of the Simmons Summer Cinema Series, the families looked like the Amish rising out of the wheat in the opening shots of “Witness.” (A movie we haven’t shown at the summer backyard movie series because of the one topless scene with Kelly McGillis, but hey – no guts, no glory!)

The house is wonderful not just for its quality (I get part of the sunny lower level for my office and library) and for its astounding views, but also for its amazing light through the main floor’s 12-foot-high windows and the interior’s amenability to our modest art collection.

Karen and I have been collecting quality original art and photographs for more than ethirty years now, and finally we have a home where the lighting – in day and night, from special skylights and art-specific halogen lights – does justice to both wall art and sculptures. Recently we bought a six-foot-high photograph done at Ellis Island by Stephen Wilkes – the second of his series of Ellis Island photos that we’ve purchased – and its place at the end of a hallway on a wall above the staircase down to my library and offices makes the corridor seem almost infinite. Elsewhere, in the living room, a large pastel landscape we bought years ago seems to connect the large west-facing windows – where Long’s Peak and Mount Meeker are centered perfectly – to the south-facing windows where we can see the Front Range extending south beyond Boulder’s Flatirons to Pikes Peak more than 110 miles south.r

That first Thanksgiving just after we moved in three years ago, my daughter Jane and I took a walk in the early evening twilight after the big turkey dinner. (We’re not big football fans.) The only structure in our long grassy knoll commons is a simple sandstone bench and Jane and I sat on it to watch a golden eagle soaring not twenty feet over our heads, then rising to circle over the surrounding farmlands.

The eagles feed on fish and prairire dogs, both of which are available in plentitude just across the road to the south at Macintosh Lake, where Karen now walks the 3 ½ miles of trail with friends and neighbors almost every morning of the year.

Sunrise here on November 30 will be at 7:01 a.m. MST; sunset on Nov. 30 will be at 4:36 p.m. MST.


Sunrise here at our prairie-style home on the prairie comes at 7:02 a.m. MST on December 1. Sunset on the first day of December is at 4:36 p.m. MST.

Average monthly temperatures down here on December 1 range from a minimum of 26 degrees Fahrenheit to a high of 49. On Dec. 31, the average low here is 18 degrees, average high 42 degrees.

Up at Windwalker at 8,400 feet, Dec. 1 and Dec. 31st highs and lows are the same – high of 37 degrees, low of 17 degrees.

There have been, in most years of the 35 years we’ve lived around here, a lot of snowless days (on average) in December . . . 4March is the snowiest month . . . but there’s enough snow to make walks and hikes interesting. Foxes leave tracks across our yards, right up to the house, (and last January two of them chose to mate – with an extra male waiting just a few yards away – right outside our kitchen windows). It’s fun to learn the tracks (and scat) well enough, both down here and up at Windwalker, to tell a coyote’s tracks from a dog’s, an elk’s from a deer’s, and a prairie dog’s from a regular ground squirrel’s.

8Those poor prairie dogs. Besides being a favorite meal for the larger hawks and bald eagles soaring overhead, they have a stupid name. When Lewis and Clark “discovered” them during their trek west, Clark wanted to name the things – he left almost all the naming to Lewis – and was going to call them “barking squirrels.” I like that. Fits the fleabitten little buggers and every walk around Macintosh Lake is replete with barking. But, once again, Meriwether Lewis stepped in (he was the writer of the two) and insisted on naming them prairie dogs, perhaps confusing the Mandan Indians’ enjoyment of eating real dogs – especially puppies – with these stringy little burrowing rodents, which even Plains Indians tended not to eat if they had a choice.

Mule deer shed their antlers in December and January. Of course, up at Windwalker, it’s the elk antlers we look for in the winter and spring. Recently on a walk, Karen found a five-point antler that’s almost three feet long. I left it under the hammock that through the summer is strung between two trees by the cabin.

The Geminid meteor shower, one of the biggest of the year, peaks around December 12th. The Sioux called the December full moon “the Long Night Moon” and that certainly seems accurate during those shortest of days and longest of nights. Those winter nights get cold enough in Colorado, even at these lower altitudes where I live most of the time, for the kind of star scintillation and dancing – especially near the horizon – that I described our poor doomed polar explorers witnessing in the opening of my novel The Terror.

The winter solstice around December 21st is still a profound event, reaching (I believe) deep into our species’ psyche and racial memory. Christmas, however carpetbagging it is in terms of the ancient Church arbitrarily setting it so close to the greatest of all pagan holidays, is still perfectly placed and lyrically exquisite and a holiday of family that I’ve always celebrated with all my heart. The victory of daylight winning its struggle over encroaching darkness must always be celebrated.


Winter is supposed to be good for writers and it’s true that most of us full-time scribblers get more productive during the shortest months of the year. One reason this is so for me is probably the Feb. 1 due date I’ve had for my novels in recent years. (It makes the holidays, including finding time for shopping and hosting Christmas or New Year’s parties, problematic.)

56This year is more problematic than most for me since – for internal reasons with my publisher – I got the go ahead for my next novel (Flashback) from them around the first of September. Since the deadline is still Feb. 1, 2010,  that gave me five months to write a serious novel. I have about 150 pp written to final draft now but even though it will be shorter than my last several books, this still allows me only nine weeks or so to write (and rewrite) the final two-thirds of the novel. And every day there’s another request coming in from the publisher to stop writing and do something else – ten days to copyedit the final page proofs of Black Hills (of course, part of the job, but the fixing the poor copyediting from them on the ms shouldn’t have been), write and perform this professional video for Borders Online, prepare to fly to a warehouse in Indiana to sign already tipped-in pages in the stitched and bound Black Hills in January (a week or two before the book is due), please do these blog and media and other interviews for Black Hills . . . .

The Internet is a real writer’s enemy these days and so, too often (and without meaning to be), are the writer’s publishers.

But Flashback is an interesting book (to me), quite different from my last few, and I hope to get back to it tomorrow and to stay with it until it’s finished. When I was in Los Angeles dealing with various movie people and deals this past August, I was asked by several people – a CAA agent, two producers, a director – what I was working on now and I summarized Flashback in just a few sentences. Unlike most of my novels, Flashback is what they call “high concept” in Hollywood. The result has been that for the first time, I have some studios, producers, directors, and even actors interested in the novel before it’s even written.

The first question I received from one director was – “I’d want to work with Will Smith on a movie version of Flashback. You don’t specify the race of your protagonist – Nick Bottom. Could he be African-American? It sounds as if he might be.”

I responded as only a dedicated literary artiste with total integrity should respond – “Hey, you buy this for the movies and I’ll go back through the novel and make my hero African-American!”

The Internet is the writer’s enemy these days and so, it seems, is the writer.

One thing I celebrated this autumn was taking two weeks to read all of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

I have tried over the years. Heaven knows I’ve tried. I believe I have four translations in ths house, including the Signet Classic small paperback translation by Ann Dunnigan. I’ve hauled that with me to more than a few places, but the type size kept getting smaller and smaller and smaller.

Translations are a tricky thing for us readers. In a clumsy religious analogy, most serious readers are Protestants – i.e. wanting no mediation between themselves and the Word. But in reading foreign fiction in translation, we’re all Catholics . . . and the mediating priests are the translators. If one is fluent in the language of the text, one doesn’t need a translator – so when we read translated fiction, we’re all hostage to the opinions of others, experts in both the language, the work of fiction, and in translation itself. It can be frustrating.

Obviously some earlier translated phrases from War and Peace into English deserve to be updated – e.g. “Andrey spent the evening with a few gay friends” or “he exposed himself on the parade ground” or “ he ejaculated with a grimace,” but despite the skill of earlier translators, there remain – according to a fairly recent British translator, Anthony Briggs – plenty of translation choices still to be made and unmade.

There’s a scene in Volume III, Part II, Chapter 31, in which our favorite viewpoint character, Pierre, watches a cannonball takes a soldier’s legs off and hears another soldier shout out, “Ekh! Neskladnaya!” Briggs points out that this has been translated into English as “Ekh! You beastly thing!” (Dole) and “Oh, awkward one!” (Weiner), and “Hey, awkward hussy!” (Garnett) and “Awkward baggage!” (Maude) and “Oh you hussy!” (Edmonds) and “Ah, you’re a bungler!” (Dunnigan). And Briggs suggested that perhaps the best call was by Clara Bell – “Ah, you brute!”

In his 2005 translation (which is the one I ended up reading this October), Briggs himself chose “Ooh! Nasty bitch that one!”

(I liked that version of the seemingly untranslatable Russian phrase, but it also shows up Briggs’s weakness – i.e. having the Russian peasants all speaking like cockney British peasants. Sometimes it was as annoying as watching a BBC epic about ancient Rome where all the patricians speak in their Oxbridge accents and all the centurions in cockney. That same soldier who cried out “Ooh! Nasty bitch that one!” says, in the same Briggs-translated paragraph, “Not your cup o’ tea is it? Look at ‘em gawping! That’s stopped ‘em!” and, almost unbearably, while making fun of peasants upset by the carnage, “Diddums do it, sonny. Don’t like it, do ‘e?”)

Not long ago I bought the beautiful hardcover in the new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (whose translation of Anna Karenina I enjoyed so much . . . and I swear that I bought it before I learned that their translation was an Oprah Pick.) But I abandoned the Pevear-Volokhonsky translation this summer as well.

It wasn’t the size of War and Peace that so often dissuaded me (even though no less a master than Henry James once called W&P “a fluid pudding” and put it high on his personal list of “large, loose baggy monsters.” I think the novel is large, but never loose.) No it wasn’t the size of War and Peace that kept me from reading it for all these years.   Nor was it my awkward judgment of the quality of the translation of the Russian into English. Rather, it was the French.

Those who know the novel know that it’s set in an era when the Russian aristocracy spoke primarily in French. In the early scenes in War and Peace – the seemingly endless ballroom scenes (which, I believe, have chased quite a few male readers away precisely as have the opening pages of Gone With the Wind with their long passages elaborately describing what Scarlett is wearing) – the dialogue and transcripts of long letters are primarily in French. Tolstoy had published it that way in his first (1868-69) edition but had removed most of the long swaths of French in his drastic revisions in 1873, but they were back in their full-French glory in the new Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation.

You understand, it’s not that I don’t speak or read or understand French, it’s only that I understand it a little less well than does the average Parisian dog. So reading page after page of bottom-of-the-page footnotes translating French to English did cause me to bail from the beautiful  Pevear-Volokhonsky translation. (Portability of the huge, heavy hardcover version was also a problem – as was the permanent dent that hardcover was putting in my abdomen.) (No need to write in – I’m aware of the irony of the author of such tomes as Drood, The Terror, and  Carrion Comfort complaining about the weight and size of a novel.)

So in the end, I went with the Anthony Briggs translation – cockney peasants and all – and loved it.

6As I expressed here on the dansimmons.com forum, reading War and Peace reminded me of the potential of the novel form. Tolstoy hovers, Godlike, above the fictional landscape, seeing everything, and then easily swoops down to observe scores of characters as they react in a battle or ballroom, and then moves ever closer to spend time in the minds and hearts of characters. He’s as equally convincing when showing us the thoughts and social terrors of a teenage princess as he is sharing the confused melange of thoughts and physical terrors of a soldier in battle.

As the writer Clare Dunkle explained (also on my forum), War and Peace is – in the end – about coming of age, of achieving (or failing to achieve) maturity as a human being as well as maturing as a man or woman or soldier. The people in War and Peace have to go through the painful process of growing up – as lovers, as parents, as humanists, as people of faith, as members of their society, and as mortal beings.

The most painful part of that growing up, in each case, is dealing with our shared inability to escape death and I’ve never read a more powerful scene than Prince Andrey’s fever dream (was it?) in which he tries to hold the door of his sickroom to keep out Death himself. The entire chapter is honest and brutal and painful for any adult to read . . . its honesty shared by only a few passages in literature, including the death scene of a certain Emma Bovary.

Tolstoy is least compelling where he thought he was being most “relevant” – whether it was his long musings about the problems facing historians, or the flow of history (the entire second Epilogue could be excised without hurting the novel, I think), or current events issues or arguments about the peasants and the proper way to farm. But the war sections of War and Peace show off the unique power of the novel as Tolstoy swoops from a common foot soldier’s point-of-view to a bold but foolish commander’s confusion to the thoughts of Napolean and the Russian generals.

This almost godlike power to show all facets of the war then, from the lowest to the highest – and to make the collection of views cohesive and instructive – reminds me of a reviewer (Norman Cousins?) in the late 1970’s who pointed out that for all of the individual brilliance of novels coming out of Vietnam at the time, in the end they all failed for lack of comprehensive scope. “Too many,” he wrote, “sound like plaintive letters home from boys who are finding summer camp not at all like they imagined it would be.”

Individual characters may have that complaint about war in War and Peace, but the author never becomes lost in such solipsism.

Most of all, I’m glad that I didn’t read this brilliant, powerful novel until now . . . until I was sixty-one years old and had been a teacher, a father, a man caught up in tumultous eras, and a writer (even a writer of historical-based fiction.) It make Tolstoy’s achievement all the more impressive and inspiring to me.

Finally, the descriptions of place – Russia in that era, its seasons and fields and farms and forests, happy parties racing their sleighs and sleds on a forty-below-zero January night – could only have been written by a man who loved his nation and his home and who took care to observe everything.

You know, what makes it hard (even with our best binoculars) to tell if the bald eagle circling to the west and south is a bald eagle or not, is that about half of them here in November and December don’t have white heads. The “immatures” are brown all over – like the large red-tailed and other hawks that are here all year – and have white splotches only under their wings and on their breasts and tails. They assume full breeding plumage – and that distinctive bald look – in their fifth year.

Macintosh Lake is crowded with seagulls and large flocks of Canada geese through the last month of the year. Sirius, the Dog Star (so strangely sacred to the ancient Egyptians), is the brightest star in the heavens during December and is visible here most nights around 9 p.m., low in the southeastern sky. To find it, one can extend a line southwest from Orion’s belt.

Sunrise on December 31 is at 7:21 a.m. MST and sunset is at 4:45 p.m. MST.


Sunrise on January 1 is at 7:21 a.m. MST; sunset is at 4:46 p.m. MST.

The Cheyenne called this month “the moon of the Frost Lodge.” In January hikes up at Windwalker, when the beaver controlled (and ravaged) the valley, I’ve seen the steam of the huddled beavers’ body heat rising from their lodge of sticks and mud. (Then again, beavers breed in January or February, so there may have been another reason for that steam.)

12Life continues to go on under the accumulating banks of snow in the mountains. Ecologist James Halfpenny has described how kinnikinnick remains green all winter under feet of snowpack, still able to carryon photosynthesis with the wee bit of light able to penetrate. It turns out that snow actually fertilizes plants it covers; Ruth Kirk has estimated that the nitrate spread on fields by snow can be valued at twenty dollars an acre.

I used to ask my sixth-grade students seemingly random science riddles such as “Why don’t birds’ bare feet freeze in the winter when they’re sitting on telephone wires?” or “On the early Mercury space flights, astronauts noticed that all the cookie crumbs had migrated over to the window in zero-gravity as if they wanted to check out the view. Why was that?” But one of my favorites was – “For evergreen trees, their needles are their leaves, carrying on photosynthesis even in the winter. How do they do that? Why don’t they freeze?” And also “Branches of deciduous trees tend to break off when snow accumulates on them when they’re leafed out. Why don’t the branches of evergreen trees break like that?”

13The kids usually discovered on their own that northern evergreens evolved with a sort of antifreeze in their sap, lowering the freezing point, and the constant presence of chlorophyll in the needles allows a bit of photosynthesis to go on even in the winter. (Aspen trees have active chlorophyll in their bark tissue in the winter, allowing them to compete with the pines and fir trees in the spring.) As for the evergreen branches only rarely breaking under the weight of snow – most evergreen branches slope downward, making it easier for the snow to slide off. (Hey, no one said that science riddles or answers have to be hard!)

Anyone who’s wintered in the mountains has enjoyed the day after a serious snowstorm with bright blue skies and the air filled with snow particles blowing from those downward-slanting branches of the pines and firs. When, during our Eco-week days in the mountains in the fall or spring, the sixth-graders studied conifer needles under magnifying glasses, they could see that each needle had a waxy coating and a streamlined shape, providing a design that minimized surface area to prevent dessication . . . the main cause of winterkill.

For all the talk of snow, January is the driest month in Colorado (March is the wettest, with the most snow), but any snow down here on the flatlands or in the foothills offers a chance to find mountain lion or bobcat tracks. Once at Windwalker I followed such tracks to a point in the valley right below the cabin (which is up on the ridge) and found what must have once been a coyote but was now only a bit of spinal gristle and a lot of coyote fur. It looked as if a giant hair-bomb had gone off.

Grasshoppers are active and twitchier than ever in January since their systems are loaded up with glycol, a natural anti-freeze. I’ve always thought that with only a bit of genetic manipulation, grasshoppers might be a good choice for our first macro-colonists on Mars. (Once the genetically altered worms are finished preparing the soil, of course.)

And I’ve long argued that rather than landing future hundred-million-dollar Mars Rovers the size of Volkwagen Beetles on the red planet, NASA could get its mojo back (and some real funding direct from the public) by dropping tens of thousands of robotic “grasshoppers” on the surface and then renting Internet time to control these Marshoppers on their explorations to people like you and me.

But I digress.

Standing outside on a January night, Orion is bright in the low southern sky around 9 p.m.  Using just binoculars, one can see the Great Nebula in Orion and the star Rigel – 460 light years distant from Earth but 14,000 times brighter than our sun – and the red giant Betelgeuse with its diameter of some 215 million miles.( If the Earth orbited Betelgeuse, we’d be inside the star.) To the north, the Big Dipper is standing on its handle, its dipper pointing to Polaris.

January brings alpenglow – a phenomenon near or in the mountains where rays of sunlight reflect off the high summits, causing them to glow pink and filling the atmosphere with an almost palpable radiance. Newfallen snow adds to the alpenglow effect, both before dawn and just after sunset. Despite December’s celebration of the winter solstice, the sun still rises later in January than any time in the year.

January should bring the greatest concentration and heaviest work on my novel Flashback – due to the publishers on February 1 – and watching alpenglow around 4:30 to 5 p.m. from my west-facing windows down at our new house (or from my south-facing windows from my study at Windwalker)is part of the memory of the writing.

Some pages ago in this essay, I mentioned the haunting quality of November, December, and January light and it reminded me of a poem that I couldn’t quite recall, but now I remember. It’s from Emily Dickinson . . .

                                    There’s a certain Slant of light,
                                    on Winter Afternoons –
                                    That oppresses, like the Heft
                                    Of Cathedral Tunes.

We all know that the month of January was named after the two-faced Roman god Janus – one face looking forward and one face looking back. Janus was also the god of beginnings and of endings and of gates and of doors.

Pondering our future at this difficult time for so many of us and for the nation and the world, I’m reminded of what Nikos Kazantzakis wrote in The Last Temptation of Christ – “The doors of heaven and hell are adjacent . . . and identical.”

But one thing is certain. Daylight begins clearly winning its struggle over darkness in the month we named January. It always has and it always will.


Note: Dan wishes to acknowledge Boulder County Nature Almanac by Ruth Carol Cushman and Stephen R. Jones with Jim Knopf.

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