January Thaw

Today, we propped open the doors and set the windows wide. It’s time in Michigan for what the locals call the “January thaw,” when for a week or so, the temperature rise, the snow melts, and you can even hear a few birds. The last bit, I think, is not so much due to the rise in temperature, but to the fact that your home isn’t so much a cave during the thaw. All the thresholds of the home are restored to their amphibious state, somewhere between the in- and outside.

When comfortable access to the outdoors are a given, as in the spring, fall, and most of summer, I don’t think I pay so much attention to the background notions that doors make in us. I mean that in winter, one is very conscious of the fact that we’ve made architectural boundaries between the domestic and the commons. You do everything you can to shut out the cold, to keep in the heat. At certain points in summer, this is true as well, but it isn’t so extreme. In the moderate seasons, when the doors are closed and windows fastened, we aren’t so aware of the way that shutting out the world affects our understanding of home. We don’t have quite so much homility. But the winter shuts you in, like seeds underground.

The thaw, then, is a time when, after being privatized for months, we have a brief period to bring the outdoors in, and all of the cloistered air that is swept out into the cool afternoon breeze is like a breath for everything inside that has choked for so long on the winter stalemate. The January thaw is a time for contemplation of the effects that our domesticities have on our psyches.

A cardinal perched in the tree just outside the open window.