Now we are in what Swedes call the ‘ox weeks’. The ox was the beast of burden before the horse, and in the times of the ox, life was hard – at least for the ox.
The local newspaper asked people in the street how they were coping during the weeks of the ox. They go out as much as possible, they said, drink berry juice, look forward to the summer.
I don’t feel the time of year is especially hard. I’m not thinking forward – I’m digging in. Around the house the snow is piling high. Hare footprints show acrobatic leaping through the snow piles. Cars and people are no longer visible on the road to one side, only the occasional head bobbing up and down. Yesterday I saw a car driving backwards down the hill. Then I realised if I could see it, it must have been on top of a lorry.
I have plenty of books to read, and there’s still a small amount of chocolate, and an even smaller amount of goodwill, left over from Christmas. A few decorations have survived the clear-up and hang defiantly from the curtain rails, glowing in a way I hadn’t noticed before. It’s a time for using up the half burned-down candles around the house, and for lighting the fire – splitting wood, poking into the furnace, watching the flames lick against the glass.
The sun returned last week – a fiery red presence on the horizon, far more colourful than one could hope for, as if making up for its weeks of absence. Appearing due south, a ball rolling sideways along the horizon, it appears next to the rubbish burning chimneys, turning the grey funnels of smoke a swirling celestial pink before sinking back down.
In the first weeks of January it isn’t unusual for the temperature to plummet, as it has this year, to minus 30. The snow crunches satisfyingly underfoot when we step out to collect the morning paper. Of necessity we spend a lot of time indoors, but slender white fingers on the snow-smothered tree wave at us through the window.
From the kitchen window I look out at the coloured electric lights I put up on the birch trees before Christmas. Over the last few weeks they’ve sunk into layers of snow, forming winding caverns of coloured light, soft and mysterious. Swathes of reds and green spread gently round the trunks, some lights only hinting at where they are, far beneath the surface. Their twinkling was bright and loud at Christmas, but in the weeks of the ox they, and I, have found new, muted depths.