December.

I used to imagine December as a time of high-excitement; the seasonal flair and the bright colored lights. I still relish the spirit, but I also find December is like the winding down of clocks, or the untying of knots pulled taunt over the months gone by.

It was in December that my father departed this world, to go sing songs with his ancestors in a language he was never allowed to learn. A byproduct of failed attempts at annihilation, instead of our lives, we lost our songs and our dances, but at least attempted genocide could not erase the music from our hearts.

My father died en route to the hospital, and I often imagined that when his spirit ascended from the ambulance that cold night, it flew on the tides of eons to Grand Avoille Cove, the one spot in this entire world where he was completely, utterly at peace. I think he lingered there for a time, under the stars, and was finally able to see the sacred flame that we brought from Natchez, the eternal fire that may have gone cold in this world centuries ago, but burns on in the next. Perhaps, once he was saturated with the magic and timelessness of that place, he went on to his grandfathers, and learned Grand Avoilleís true name in the language of his forebears.

I often think that if I can, I will depart this world from Grand Avoille Cove, too. If I have a choice. If I have the will and the magic. Coíktangi haíne het ciíne. The pond-lily worship place. Nothing else seems appropriate. Perhaps itís hard to comprehend being so attached by umbilical to such a place, such a land and water. Western doctrine detaches man from his surroundings, apart. On this continent we had no such shackles.

December, and temperatures pendulum wildly from air-conditioner to heater varieties. But the grass hasnít needed trimming in three weeks, growing sleepy with the shorter day-length and a carpet of brown leaves scurry and dart together like startled bison when the wind picks up. Acorns hit the metal roof of the house and sound like small rifle shots; the fig tree is naked and so is the pecan tree, but the cedars and live oaks are primordial greens.

The dog and I still wait for our wood ducks. We have not seen them again. Cranes fly upstream but detour when they see us and land in trees a couple hundred yards away, fussing at us nosily. Itís as if they fear crossing in front of us. Perhaps it hasnít been cold enough for wood ducks yet, but I hear they are appearing in other places. With cooler weather, whatever huge fish were moving around in the bayou near the dock have either moved on, or are less active. The dog and I have not seen them lately.

She has found an old bone of some sort to chew on and I hear her gnawing happily behind me. In December, she lay on a mulch of cypress needles, reddish-brown and she loves to flop on her back and wriggle in them to scratch. When she finally comes back to her feet, she looks like a porcupine from the fur-imbedded cypress leaves.

In December, my grandfather would be tending cabbage and such in the garden, and my grandmother would be making sweet potato bread. Iíve never had another like it, and fear I never will, but it was the greatest sweet potato bread I ever knew. My mother would be tending to holiday dinners, including lemon icebox pie, my favorite in the whole world. Lemon icebox pie makes December bearable. They were married, she and my father, in December in the living room of the house where I now live.

It wonít be long and woodcock will be flitting through the marshy-edged uplands, and I long for them nearly as much as I ache for Bobwhite, that gentleman of my youthful forays in December. I think I miss Bob as much as Ma Fayeís sweet potato bread.

Christmas mornings, Iíd leap out of bed and tear into the gifts under the tree. My mom also always had a present for Chico, our Chihuahua mix, which heíd tear open with great zeal. By ten, my grandparents would arrive in a wonderful haze of aromas: rice dressing, pecan pie, sweet potato bread and yams.

Thereís a photo of me somewhere in a cowboy hat and a long overcoat, a "duster" I guess. I wanted to be the cowboys when I was a kid, because the cowboys always won and the Indians always lost. It was Christmas morning and my new duds were presents, as well as the shiny silver, faux pearl-handled six-shooter cap gun I was pointing at my grandpa behind his head. He was in the middle of telling some story, mouth in mid-utterance, hand demonstrating some point, shape or exclamation. In that solitary instant, frozen in a tiny 3x5 frame of emulsion on paper, December was saturated, vibrant, alive with something I canít quite remember but miss badly.

When I was a child

I caught a fleeting glimpse

Out of the corner of my eye

I turned to look but it was gone

I cannot put my finger on it now

The child is grown

The dream is goneĖ

But the dog and I walk through December on an ocher carpet of cypress needles, watching for wood ducks. The house uphill behind us is empty except for Patches. Just Mom and I left. We have our holidays with our loved ones and they are special, irreplaceable. Yet December isnít as vibrant. Isnít as bright, somehow, without the other three old people who made up all my Decembers, all the months of all my years until one by one time eroded them from my sight, to drift over Grand Avoille Cove in hallowed reverence for a time then pass into a star-shrouded sanctuary beyond.

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( A debt to Pink Floyd is gratefully acknowledged.)