Monday, January 18, 2010

Old January

Third week, and how well-worn this new month feels. Here we are at Martin Luther King Day, which has become a kind of fortunate resting square on the board of the calendar, a good place to pause. Take stock of the young year. Listen to those amazing cadences of the "I Have a Dream" speech if you have the radio turned on. And chances are you do, it being a Monday disguised as a Sunday, so all the weekday programs have a weekend leisureliness to them. Fresh Air had a piece on Satchel Paige. He was a hometown hero up in Bismarck, North Dakota, at one point. Who knew?

I was trying to say something about Haiti as news the other day, and wasn't sure I was up to the task in this woolgathering almanac. But it has become a January setting now. It shares temporal space with wherever else we are, home, car, somewhere else, by virtue of the media and the pull of great need. So if December flows into Christmas, then January/janvier/enero is eddying around the demi-island of Haiti, that gallant Citadel Belafonte sang about. And we watch from this (safe) distance as thousands die, lights wink out under the rubble, and what can we do but let them, as if it is a newsreel story we are read to on a daily basis in an ornate movie house. A tragedy we must rehearse until we have made it our own.

It is past the expiry date for most Christmas trees, I think. Many were lying on their backs in the snow last week, waiting to be manhandled by guys with heavy gloves and tipped into the maw of a truck that eats trees. This week, fewer, I'm guessing. It makes me think of another way people had of bidding farewell to their trees when I lived in Vancouver back in the 70s and early 80s. There was a big bonfire on Locarno Beach, back in a bit from the strand, among the conifers. It was long and loud and pagan. The trees would be hoisted high and passed along on a conveying of hands until, close to the edge, a mighty heave and a joyous roar as the tree exploded in flame and sparks. I believe it was halted after a kid fell out of a tree and broke his arm. But I still think of trees silhouetted against the firelight as if it were a tribe I once belonged to before I got all civilized.

Wouldn't you know, they have a Christmas tree bonfire in Salem, Mass., down on Deadhorse Beach. No auto da-fé of trees in motion, but something of that pagan feel, especially after the two minute mark:

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