December. Revolutions slow, grind to a halt. There is a sense of finality in the air, something like a promise fulfilled, sweet, satisfying.

Yet there is a lingering discomfort, a somethingÖit is hard to define, difficult to pinpoint. Dread? Perhaps. Of what? Winter, maybe. Cold air and chill water.

The cabin fever has set in already. Outside the window the trees and lawn have browned, and the bayou runs muddy. The rods are stashed for the winter, the fly boxes being restocked and the reels well-oiled. I try to hunker down, begin to settle in, but I am restless, ill at ease. Panthers stalk my dreams; they walk the lakeshore, restless too, and they rumble deep in their throats at the cold.

As he paces in cramped circles, over and over,

the movement of his powerful soft strides

is like a ritual dance around a center

in which a mighty will stands paralyzedó

(Rainer Maria Rilke)

More years ago than I care to count, I drifted along the banks of Lake Fausse Pointe and threw impaled worms under a cork against the base of cypress trunks. The silence was suddenly rent by a wail like shredding souls, and in a patch of reeds between the trees ashore, the panther peeked out at me, eyes bright and curious, defiant and searching. In the breath of a hearthbeat it was gone, melted into the darkness under the cypress canopy seamlessly.

But that was a long time ago, before my knees ached with the pain of aging joints and before the computer screens began to disintegrate my eyes. I feel it the most in December, in winter: The cold gnaws at the degeneration of my body, of my spirit, of panthers stalking the lakeshore. I prowl myself but itís among the rooms of the house, safe within the cypress and fir and tupelo. I prowl through the books on the shelves, looking for solace in the winter, but the days when Tolkien could soothe me have passed with the many summers: All that is gold does not glitter; not all those that wander are lost. Middleton is much more to my liking in winter, but when Harry says to my soul, Solitude was their profit, more valuable to them than a fat bank account, and they determined to spend it wisely and well, I feel penniless, bereft and berated. I run my eyes over more spines, fingers touching more titles and turn to Stephen Donaldson, realizing that no books will soothe me when he says to me in stark, black type: That beauty and truth should pass utterly from the world...

Mild as winter may be here, it still brings me to a standstill. The dog and I walk the bayouside in search of autumn but it has already drifted south, following the tailing edge of a wedge of geese in an lofty congregation. Mudflats line the bank, northerly winds have pushed bayou water out into the gulf where it is lost within the greater whole. Hawks hunt on high, wide of wingspan and graceful, suddenly dropping out of the sky like smitten angels, rising suddenly up again with something clutched in their talons, too far away from me to identify. I check on a nest of yellow jackets burrowed in the ridge that I had tried to eradicate at first cold snap, and I think I succeeded, but it saddens me somehow that something must always cease to exist in order for humanity to be comfortable. Too few left who believe the earth is enough, Middleton whispers to me, from the bookshelf in the house, and I nod in sad agreement. Too few left.

But I shake him off my shoulders, out of my mind, a shiver of the cold north wind, a tremble of the end of the year. Listening to Middleton in December is fraught with dismay; he can make the reader hopeless and elated, all at once, dangerous emotions for winter. I trod back to the house, aware of absences: The old workshops, barns, corn cribs and chicken coops; the cistern and the great big spinning clothes line stand; the pump house and the potted plants, the stacks of lumber and the barbed wire, hoops of drying basket cane, cypress knees for whitling. The land seems barren, and I feel lonely for them all.

When winter gets inside my marrow like this, Iím not to be placated, not to be soothed. Only spring will restore me, settle the pacing panthers. Itís painfully far away yet.

Last spring the little winged messenger of my fatherís people, kich, did not come to me, or so I thought. I grieved all the year for it, thinking I had not been strong enough to sustain it. For the entirety of her life in this old house, my grandmother would speak with kich when it perched in the fig tree each spring. Our people could understand it, and it would warn us of dangers, of friends, of fortune or pitfalls, by its very specific sounds and utterances. But last spring I thought kich had abandoned me, until I woke from a dream of panthers one night and my grandmotherís voice reminded me, as she had as a boy, the one occasion when the little bird would never speak: If there were to be a flood, she said, kich would circle in the skys, silent, afraid to come down. It has been a year of floods, to be sure, and I know now that ancient messengers still live in a world. Maybe the earth is enough after all.

The house is warm and the spicy, sweet scent of simmering soup drifts to me as I close the door and shed my coat. There is solace here, at last, and quiet contentment as I wait for spring to return. It is December, nearing the end of another chapter, readying for the next. I donít know how many more the book holds, but for now, at least, I can still the pantherís pacing, rest easy for at least a little while. Winter wonít last forever; nor shall I, but for the time that I am here, perhaps the earth is enough, after all. Just maybe it is.