Nature knows not that it is a new year. It is simply another day. A wintry one, cold and without foliage. There was a recent respite in the weather last week, one the birds celebrated with singing and a great show of squabbling at the feeders. Yet it is still a winter day. No matter that the humans on this planet have flipped a calendar page, popped open bottles of champagne, toasted, resolved, and celebrated. The daily struggles and joys of life continue as they have forever.
We choose an arbitrary day to mark a new year, a turning point, a time to look back and then look ahead. It gives us a sense of passing time, accomplishments and losses, perhaps perspective. We make resolutions to improve and progress. Why on Jan. 1?
Maybe it is because we start our calendars with January and it seems logical. Or perhaps it is because in the middle of the winter season, we need to refocus and re-inspire ourselves. Yet people celebrate the world over on the same day, though not all are in the winter doldrums. Some cultures and groups do not use Jan. 1 as the start of their new year, though most do, and it is still an annual event. A year seems a long time to wait for a refueling of goals and reflection of events past.
Photo by Sarah Hatfield
A reflection in the Hudson River is more straightforward than examining the events and emotions of any one person’s one year of life.
Reflecting is a process, after all. It is not something to be done in an hour or two, or even 24. There are 365.24 days to peruse in your mind of the year - the good, the bad, the sad and the hilarious. There are life-changing moments and missed opportunities. There are the "almosts" and the "what ifs" and the "I wonders."
Reflections are sometimes crisp and perfect, and sometimes riffled a little and left vague. It is like the difference in the mirror of a still pond and the fractured reflection of a babbling stream. The images we have, clear or hazy, are accurate in our hearts and souls. The meanings are now a part of ourselves, no less than our marrow and heart. To reflect on such a collection of thoughts takes more than one day. Often it takes a lifetime.
Reflection is the chance to turn an event into a guiding principle. To internalize a happening, absorb it, process it and mull it over until it makes sense - that is reflection. When that happens, we are better for the time we've taken to do so. A reflection in nature is simple and straightforward. It does not stray or add things that are not there. It simply shows what exists from a perspective we may not be able to see. On water, on ice, within a drop of dew or from an animal's eyes, a reflection is the truth mirrored into our world. It is light.
In our lives, reflection is more complicated. Our brains must piece together the elements, both brash and subtle, to form the picture. Ultimately we see something that wasn't there before, a detail, a movement, an element. It may lead to understanding. It may be simply an observation. We would have missed it without the reflection, though.
I love how the world is reflected in a drop of dew on a tree branch. I reach up and touch it with my tongue, so sweet. There are no straight lines in the world within a raindrop. All is curved. It is as if our world with sharp edges meanders, softens. The harshness and defined nature becomes more malleable and I find myself smiling at the change.
I can see myself, but I am upside down. I realize there are people that can explain the refraction and reflection with formulas using the curvature of the drop and the viscosity and other such technical aspects. I prefer to just dwell within that water droplet for a moment, suspended from the cigar-shaped bud of an American Beech sapling, and float.
There is much to reflect on this past year. I believe 2008 has been one of the most challenging years for me in so many ways. I have learned much. I have fought and cried and given up hope. I have made amends, forgiven and healed. I have traveled, laughed, discovered and loved. I have lived.
Sometimes I am still and clear like the reflections on the pond. The pieces fit together and create a stunning image. Life is whole and beautiful. Other times I am fragmented and wild, not able to make anything from the pieces that are my life. Life is disassembled, but still in a thousand pretty pieces. I can be amorphous, having no real shape, as the reflection in ice or curved and lithe, as seen through morning dew.
Blurry or curved, complete or fractured, my life is reflected in my memories, my stories, and the very principles that guide me. I did not wait for Jan. 1 to reflect or remember. Nor will I wait for next year to flip the pages of my life in 2009. It will be a regular exercise - to ponder and wonder and peruse and absorb. Daily I will go about my life, surviving just as the birds do without knowledge of date or year. With such continual changes in perspective, I will grow, heal, recover, remember and resolve more naturally and holistically. Each element will change me. Each moment will reflect in my personality, my tears, and my smile. I will be 2009, each day as it passes, just as the reflection on the water is the world.
Come and greet the new year at Audubon. The trails are open daily, dawn to dusk, and the center is open Saturdays and Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4:30 p.m. Audubon is located at 1600 Riverside Road, off Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. Happy New Year!
Sarah Hatfield is a naturalist at Audubon and her favorite reflection is that of the sun on the clouds at sunset.