I have never heard anyone say they are looking forward to mud season in the Northeast Kingdom. Over the years I have often written this column about many people and places.
But just this month of January I mention fewer names and places in particular. I sure am thinking, however, of real people and places in real-time in our beloved Vermont.
Many of your and my friends have already left for warmer climates. Others we all know are thrilled to ski, ice fish, snowboard, and snowshoe. The list of January pleasures is endless. It does not take another L.L. Bean catalog to remind us of the joys of outside and inside.
As the daylight gets longer moment by moment in January, we all hope despite winter fun in Vermont that we will have the courage to sustain our better selves to get beyond mud season.
We all know too in our more thoughtful moments that underneath all of this snow and frozen turf there is dormant life waiting for their right moment.
In the meantime can we ponder a powerful point. Everything in January in Vermont gets dark early and is frozen except for the hearth and matters of the heart.
One of the greatest who lived admonished us to avoid the heart from becoming cold.
The point is also made especially in such troubling times as these, that our very human hearts have a high propensity for coldness and hardness. The evidence for such a temptation is abundant. Isn’t it?
Nonetheless, we want the ice on our lakes and ponds to be deep. We old skiers don’t want to have ice on the trails. Some things being frozen are necessary but the matters of the heart and hearth need their encouragement.
A hundred years ago or so I was President of the West Hartford School Ski Club in Connecticut. Annually, we traveled in those early 1950s to a place called “The Round Hearth” in Stowe.
Even in those days we sat by the hearth and reminded ourselves that while skiing was magnificent, the matters of the hearth and heart mattered just as much.
As a pastor, I know that weddings are often planned in January for June. Many years ago, I was asked in January to save a June date to give a commencement address. I spent years cramming for semester-ending exams in January so that I could go on to celebrate the reception of another degree in June.
It is not that January doesn't have its celebrations. Prayers given at the State House for four inaugurations for governors through the years are precious memories.
Perhaps it is well that we sit by the hearth in January and vow to keep matters of the hearth and home close to our best and deepest selves and to be thankful that seasons come and go all too fast with many long-lasting lessons along the way.
June with its warmth and wonder and lilac loveliness will then enable us to appreciate the joy of both January and June.
A magnificent Northeast Kingdom illustration of my point is in East Haven at the old, beautiful little chapel with its horse sheds behind it and the cemetery next to it. The chapel was for sale for a long time. It was cold and dark for many a January.
Bruce Lindsay and Anna Cronin from Connecticut bought it a couple of years ago and built the now popular Dirt Church Brewery right next to it. Bruce is a horticulturalist and one of their first acts was to come to our farm for a tree. Our family was honored to be able to give to the church a lovely tree reminding them and us that the roots of evergreen can be forever good.
What was once cold and dark in the long nights of January is now a place of celebration with lots of light, love, and good drinks!
The snowmachines of January and the bicyclists in June with their enthusiasm and popularity come from their center in East Burke often end up at the chapel and brewery in East Haven where the matters of the heart find their home in the beauty and fun of the brewery and in the comfort and welcoming warmth of the chapel.
The lighted candles in the chapel windows speak of the yearning we all have for light and love in matters of the heart.
The historic Olde Church in St. Johnsbury Center is another example of January cold and dark being transformed into joyous celebrations in June. The Church is pastored by our son, The Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Potter, who tells insightfully of the transformation from the cold nights around the Memory Tree in January to the June celebrations of weddings, graduation events, and parties.
As pastors, we are reminded through the years of the January passing of loved ones, and the need for a celebration of life in the bright comforting sunshine of June.
As a young boy, I memorized good old words from a good old book: “There is a time and a season for all things.” The wise words end with a call to be happy in all seasons.
So just maybe the wish “Happy New Year” can be said all through January. Happy New Year!
Bob Potter lives with his family in Wheelock and pastors the Monadnock Congregational Church of the Great North Woods in Colebrook, NH. He can be reached at email@example.com