Cold, brilliant blue sky. At 3:00, when we left, the sun had already vanished behind the trees that loom over our little crooked house. But we drove off in brilliant sunshine.
Half an hour north we were startled to find ourselves in a snowy landscape, the doug firs all trimmed, the meadows and roofs and lawns freshly laid with white. The sense of unreality deepened as we turned off onto a snowy lane that led to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, drove up, and then down a slope to a maze of little lakes and marshes. This part of the refuge you can drive through, so long as you stay in your car. The waterfowl pay the cars no mind. Neither do the muskrats, who went about their business as if we weren't there, at times couple yards from the car, munching something they were finding in the frosty grass, or dropping suddenly into the creeks alongside, or popping back out. The eagles were a little more wary. We saw a pair of midsize bald ones, though, and an even larger, blond bird, that I can only suppose was a massive golden eagle, cruised directly over us, at roof-height. Are they moving south, again? I had never seen one here, until the last couple years. The water was half iced over, and it teemed with ducks, geese, and swans; the reeds and woods were full of smaller birds that flickered and vanished when you looked at them.
The sun set red through the trees, and strange lights rose from the water and the snow. We drove at a footpace, with the windows down. The beauty of it all was terrifying: so lonely, so unexpected. At times great flocks would rise from the water, all crying at once, and we would stop the car to listen to them.
So. A new year: a cold, lonely, and beautiful one.