January: The month that knows what it is

PHOTO: Paul VanDerWerf, Flickr CC

When I went off to college in another state I remember the happy ceremony of my arrival on campus. Friendly resident assistants helped move my mini fridge up the three flights of stairs. Despite the folly of it, I actually brought a wooden bookshelf and about 40 of my favorite books. The good samaritans cheerfully hauled those up as well. They had the spirit.

Welcome events offered free food and introductions to fellow students. The college even held a big convocation with one of those serious-sounding choirs trilling away in Latin. 

This wasn’t the Iron Range anymore. I was matriculating.

What followed was eight months of sleeping on sheets that I never washed, eating instant mashed potatoes and canned corn from my only dish because my work schedule kept me from the cafeteria. It was still a good experience, but devoid of the pomp and circumstance that greeted me in August. 

So it goes, I think, for winter back home in northern Minnesota. Once we stow away the cinnamon smells and twinkling lights of Christmas we enter the real winter.

I’ve come to respect January. Most months in this state try to be something they’re not. January knows what it is. Very cold. Windy. Dry. With preparation, something to enjoy from inside a warm house or through the eye holes of proper winter gear. Without preparation, January will kill you and no one would be surprised.

I think of January as senior to the warm and wet months. It’s self-actualized. Maybe that’s why I like it more as I track through my 40s.

I’ve found a few coping mechanisms to help me enjoy this month. Arguably the most important has been feeding the birds. For the last few years, my son and I have been feeding the winter birds. Since we live in the woods, our little corner of the wilderness quickly fills with birds once they discover the seed and suet.

It begins as a charity case. Oh, those poor birds. They are so small and it is so very cold outside. But, fact is, those birds are helping me as much as I help them. In a time of year paralyzed by stasis and ennui, the birds just don’t care about your problems and teach that you shouldn’t either. In fact, you begin to see things the birds’ way. Running out of seed is, in fact, a much worse problem than the passive aggression of your fellow committee members. 

I also treated myself this winter with a small magazine rack that sits by my soft comfy chair in the living room. You might think that a magazine rack comes a bit too late in the industrial history of paper to be useful these days, but you would be wrong.

My magazine rack now features the three books I’ve started but not finished, my ever-growing stack of Star Tribune crossword puzzles, and several magazines I’ve been meaning to read since last summer. Instead of a tall stack on the end table, one too precarious to dare disturb, I can see everything that I once thought interesting enough to read. I am also indistinguishable from my grandfather, who kept his whole life next to the chair in his living room. It is actually a comfort to know how it’s all going to end up eventually.

You might be too hip, too happening to accept this fate — of the birds and the magazine rack — for yourself. I understand. Perhaps I had some advantage in being the kind of kid who wore khaki pants that always frayed at the cuffs because I wouldn’t accept that my inseam was 30 and not 32. But I know who I am now, and I think that gives me a real advantage in surviving another January in Minnesota.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Jan. 16, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.




  1. Elanne Palcich says

    This one gets another 5 star rating!

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