January, and the days will only get longer from here, sun creeping into our homes earlier each morning until we can barely remember waking up in darkness – earthworm eyes blinking through nighttime soil to greet the light. Persephone rising toward the surface from the Underworld. To me, this time of year still feels like a descent, a slow fade into the black earth. Perhaps it’s because we’ve come to the end of the gauntlet of holidays that celebrate light, with months ahead unfolding like a long carpet of grey. Despite the meteorological evidence that we gather more light with each day that passes, the post-holiday stretch falls into shadow. With no celebrations to draw me out, I turn more toward hibernation than hygge. I am pulled into stubborn reflection, teased by regret, visited by grief – the kind left unprocessed by the churn of the year and its insistent momentum. Ghosts line up to be acknowledged, avenged. There are questions: did I do enough? Did they know how very loved – sacred even – they were to me in life? Did I say It? – the only questions that matter as we sift through the ashes of writing drafts or moments with mentors, friends, mothers: did I appreciate their light, stoke it with the perfect word and deed, or watch them burn down, too shy to risk a singed ego?

Does this belabored metaphor belong with the kindling as well?

There is a reason the sight of a bonfire can hypnotize. A fire is time – and its irrevocable loss – embodied but still veiled, mysterious. Hindsight – squinting backward into darkness when the candles go out, has a bottom, an end point where questions can gather. At this time of year, we expect answers, neatly wrapped. Winter issues a silent reply, urging patience, breath, the cold density of earth against our flesh.