- Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County.
A recent email from a friend was short and simple. “I hope you had a peasant Thanksgiving.” Amazing what a dropped letter can do. It wasn’t peasant, however it was pleasant enough, reading Kerouac in front of a warm fire, Luna curled up at my side while I munched on a turkey wrap, in a nod to the day, while G.F. Handel’s magnificent, and complete, “Messiah” played softly in the background.
A week or so back was what we call the “winter solstice,” something to do with the angle of the earth toward the sun changing, adding a bit more daylight to each day or, as I like to think, stealing the darkness. Humans have known this particular bit of science astronomy for thousands of years, which, to me, is astounding. I rather like the cold and dark this time of year. Again, my friend Handel, when the bass sings, “For behold, as darkness shall cover the earth.” Sublime stuff.
Winter solstice is the one day each year when I listen to a tune from 1970 called “Icarus,” by the Paul Winter Consort, a haunting piece that celebrates both the dark and the light with resonating cello, soaring soprano saxophone that periodically drops earthward to some of the most melancholic music I’ve encountered.
Out here I cannot see any artificial light from my house, something that helps me to remember the importance of me when I look at the universe spread out like a sparkling fishing net overhead. It’s frightening, soothing, and humbling. Some years back a neighbor on my gravel road had an annoyingly bright barn light that was quite visible. Thankfully he moved on, and one of the first things the new owners did was take down the damned light. Welcome back, darkness, my old friend.
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As I write this in the full light of day, a small flock of dark-eyed juncos are working their tiny way up my lane, pecking at the gravel not covered with snow. Not sure what kind of sustenance in the limestone for them, but they’re welcome to it. Speaking of snow, there are the most adorable mouse tracks around my garage, and I imagine a little camera crew out there filming a scene from Beatrix Potter’s spectacular book, “The Tale of Two Bad Mice.” Not sure where I was going with that; unfiltered thoughts just passing by, I suppose.
I have been made to understand that a new year is once again rolling around, which is just fine, as the past one has not been one of my favorites. I have been to one New Year’s Eve party in my life, and it was in 1968 when my girlfriend and I chaperoned a party involving her little brother and his friends. It was non-alcoholic chaos. And I have never been foolish enough to resolve anything for the new year, but please allow me to offer a few wishes for your new year. I wish you peace, good health and, more than anything, I wish for you the pure unadulterated joy of someone in your life who, shortly after sunrise, says, quietly, “Good morning, love.”
Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.
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