Remembering Januaries starts with journaling

posted Jan. 9, 2018 7:19 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Jerry Apps | Stories from the Land

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I am a journal keeper. I have been for many years. I encourage students enrolling in my writing workshops to keep a journal. I tell them that we can’t know where we’re going unless we know where we’ve been. Keeping a journal is one way to record where we’ve been. Here are some excerpts from my journals as I recalled Januaries from earlier years and a more recent time.

January 4, 1987

Steve, my 87-year-old father, 90-year-old John Swendrzynski, and I went ice fishing last Friday and Saturday at Mt. Morris Lake, a few miles from Roshara. Steve and John each caught a northern pike on Friday; I caught one on Saturday and Dad caught two. The catching was average, but the fishing was outstanding with lots of storytelling. Temperature was in the 30s, with bright sunshine.

January 3, 1989

Quiet at Roshara. Beautiful. Yesterday the temperature rose to only 14 degrees, but the woodstove kept the cabin warm and comfortable, with only the minimum amount of wood. In the living room stove, I dare put in only one small stick of oak at a time or it quickly gets too warm in the cabin. I recall a few years ago when it was 10 below zero and I put too much wood in the stove, and it was in the 80s in the cabin — with all the windows open.

Minus-4 degrees this morning. Clear. Snow squeaks when I walk to the woodshed for more stove wood. I’ve been cross-country skiing twice a day, once in the morning and once again in the afternoon. But crusty snow makes it too fast, too dangerous. I slid into a white pine tree this morning, cracking off several small branches. No damage to me, only to the tree.

January 28, 1991

I was visiting with my 91-year old father this afternoon. He told me, “If I had to do it all over again, I would have spent more time fishing.” He also said I should start doing it before it’s too late. I think he has a point.

January 3, 2014

A couple feet of snow covers Roshara as we start the new year. A week ago the temperature soared to 40 degrees after more than a month of below-freezing weather. But now it’s back to cold. More like winter.

I’m sitting at the homemade table in my cabin, the woodstove at my back keeping me comfortable as I occasionally glance at the thermometer and see the outside temperature dropping. The late afternoon winter sun struggles desperately to warm the countryside, but mostly fails as the temperature plummets at sunset. Down to zero degrees and still falling at 5 p.m. Even though the days are a smidgen longer since we are now more than a week past the winter solstice, darkness still comes by 4:30.

In the twilight I spot a deer, a big doe, walking down the trail that leads to our garden spot. The snow is to her knees, but she appears to have little difficulty moving along, looking for something to eat as the snow has buried all the grass, including the winter rye that I planted in my garden last October and that stays green all winter. The doe nibbles at the buds on the shrubs and small oak trees. I watch her. She is like a person at a cafeteria, picking something here, something there. Hoping to find enough to eat so she can sleep with a full belly on this cold, cold winter night.

January 4, 2014

The sky is clear and the temperature hangs around zero when I wake up on this early January morning. There is no sound as I walk from the cabin to the woodshed for another load of firewood for the ever-hungry cook stove that heats my meals, warms the cabin, and brings back many memories of an earlier day on the home farm.

As I sit at my laptop, creating words and sentences, I think about the contradiction of being warmed by a woodstove that is as old as I am and perhaps even older, while I work at a modern-day device that no one had even conceived of when the woodstove was manufactured.

I don’t see the past colliding with the present. I see the past enhancing the present, adding depth and meaning to it, enriching the present rather than challenging it. There is a practical side to working while being warmed by a woodstove. As a writer, I am often at a loss for what to write next, how to construct the next sentence in a story, deciding on just the right word to make a point and a host of other decisions that make writing the most challenging (also most fun) thing that I do. When I am stuck and can’t think of what word should come next, I get up, and put another stick of wood in the stove. It seems the stove always needs another stick of wood, and while I am feeding the stove, my subconscious is feeding me the next word, the next sentence, the next idea to explore — usually, but not always.

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