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So now the credit card bills start coming in. Christmas is just a burn barrel of old wrapping paper. The oven needs cleaning. January is bleak. I think it’s my least favorite month of the year. It’s really a nothing month. The only special day I can think of is my daughter’s birthday. I lied to her for the first six years of her life, telling her that her birthday was in July. My mom let the cat out of the bag on that one. Hey! I was so poor back then, I could barely afford any Christmas, much less a birthday two weeks later! I would eat peanut butter and jelly so she could have a pork chop!  When I had her birthday in July I could save some money for a real party and all the kids could be OUTSIDE! Lucky for HER, SHE was born in June.

January is bleak. The driveway is a churn of mud. My Jeep is filthy, but why wash it? We keep towels by the door to catch the paws of all the critters when they come in the house, as if they hardly ever go out at all anyway.  Willie and Rusty get all excited, whine and race around until we open the door………then they just stand there and look outside before turning back to their beds by the fire. The cats sleep 24 hours a day. Even the black cat that I thought was dead came back to the house. She’s been gone for months at a time and the last time I saw her was around Halloween. Now she’s in a bed too. She doesn’t meow. She just hisses and eats. And sleeps.

January is bleak. Keeping the Riverwood warm is a constant challenge. To get the main room warm, I got a big garage blaster that fires up like a jet. While that’s going, we get a fire going in the big pit fireplace.  It takes a couple of hours to get the place comfortable. By the time it’s nice and cozy, it’s usually time to close. Oh well. I just bought an overhead garage heater for the back pool room but now it’s tripping breakers. Everyone is worried about the flu. Every cough is potential vermin. We’re all suspicious of each other……..January is flu time too.

January is bleak. Sick of Ugs. Big, chunky things on my already big feet. I feel like I have on cement shoes. I long for my flip-flops. By the time I get on my sweaters, neck scarves, jacket and gloves I’m exhausted. It’s hard to get the seatbelt around all that girth. I want my elastic waist shorts.

January is bleak. My yard is a mush of fallen leaves and crabapples. Why don’t squirrels like crabapples? What good are they anyway? They don’t even get worms like other apples do and they never seem to rot and some still cling to the mangy tree that grows them. I’d go out and rake the whole mess but my hands would probably freeze to the rake.

But, January is also the month when the river turns that perfect jade green and the flow is marked by whitewater over rocks and snags. I love to see the drift boats on the river. I think today I might bundle up and go down to the shore and watch them float by. What a great way to spend a day. I love the river all year round, but in January, under the surface, silver bullets are doing the century old dance and that, to me, is mysterious and wonderful. So there’s one good thing about January. The fish are here. I wish I had a drift boat. I would love to drift down the river, watching for otters and salmon and steelhead under the surface. I wouldn’t fish. I would drink hot toddies and kick back for the ride.

I use to fish and I have more than a few “fish stories”. One time, eons ago, my ex-husband and I, along with my two little step-sons and my daughter, all under seven, went rough camping up on the Salmon River for about two weeks. We caught a lot of fish up there just using grasshoppers for bait. On the trip home we stopped for a final night along the McCloud River. By this time, I was sick of all of them. For over two weeks I’d been cooking three meals a day on a camp stove.  That morning I got up to cook breakfast, only to find there wasn’t much left. One wanted this and one wanted that. Michael was no help. Just a lump in the tent.  Grabbing one of the kid’s cheap plastic poles, I stomped off through the willows to get away. The cubs could fend for themselves…….Mama Bear was gone.

The river was full and peaceful. The air fragrant with pine and water. I walked down the bank until I couldn’t hear them yelling for food anymore.  Finding a small beach among the willows, I casually tossed out the line from the toy rod, watching the hook with the dried up salmon egg from the day before still clinging to it, drift down the current.  One second it was there, the next it was gone, clamped in the jaws of a huge silver flash. I yanked on the line and tried to reel it in, but it was all tangled up around the spool (damn kids!) so I just hung on while the monster leapt and fought for its life, arching up into the sunlight and then plunging down into the green. I ran down the bank, crashing through the willows, trying to pull the line in with my hands. Giving up on that, I gave a huge heave to the pole and the fish flew out of the water, over my head and back into the willows behind me. I dropped the pole and ran back to find him. It was a search, but there he was, flopping on the rocks, the most beautiful fish I had ever seen. I felt terrible. I tried to get the hook out but he was on it good. With tears streaming down my face, I picked up a big rock and smashed him on the head. It took several hits before he finally gave into his fate. I sat there with that fish and just sobbed. Such a thing of beauty and I killed it with my bare hands. Finally I picked him up by the gills and trudged back to our paltry camp.

They were all still there, of course, waiting for me to feed them. Like baby birds with their beaks open. I shook out the last of the dry cereal, saving a small portion for me, poured out the last of the milk and gave them all spoons. Then I whipped out MY fish, cleaned it and cut off the head. I dipped it in the last egg and rolled it in my dry cereal. I put the last pat of butter into the cast iron skillet, plopped the pan on the campfire till it sizzled and fried my fish to a golden brown. Without an ounce of share in my soul, I ate it right in front of them, picking the bones clean. By this time I had decided that the kids were all brats and Michael was a jerk, so I wasn’t bothered in the least as I licked my fingers, one by one.

But, here we are back in January. If anyone drifting down the river sees a deranged woman along the shore with two weird dogs, give her a wave.  But don’t drift too close to the shore because she might just jump in the boat, leaving all her cares behind and drift away………….January is a bleak month, don’t ya know.