Cotton in the Canyons

We can start to put the holidays behind us, concentrate on the daffodils pushing up through the wet clay and admire Taylor Swift’s snowy overbite, all the little treasures of a modern LA life.

It’ll be a good month to be a raindrop, the winter storms lining up like jumbo jets, thank gawd. I’m thinking of making soup, a burly/beany leather-colored stew that’s probably technically a psalm.

Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony…

FYI, the best soups are born in January. The best sunsets. The best hikes. The best psalms.

January is made for old Hobbits like me. There is rain in the hills, cotton in the canyons. It’s a good month for bulky sweaters…throaty old singers…snoring dogs.

It’s also our most-dutiful month — goals and diets and self-denial. Dry January? No way. But if that’s your drink-kink, go ahead. I’ll be standing by just in case.

Meanwhile, my predictions for the new year, in case you were wondering, which you weren’t:

–J-Lo will break up with someone. Who? Maybe everyone.

–There’ll be a Russian coup of some sort, involving a seduction and/or poisoning. No one rocks coups like the Russians, it’s where all their neuroses bubble up. Somehow, Putin will survive, move in with the Kardashians, which is the worst punishment any man could face. Those snakes do to men what Rasputin did to Alexandra.

What else in 2023?

–Some major, magnificent winter storms.

–The economy will begin to boogie-woogie again (April, maybe May).

–Movies will suck.

Please note that the only Christmas release by the studios was something called “Violent Night,” one of those hostages-at-the-holidays flicks America adores (or doesn’t).

“I want to make it my holiday to-do list, to find you and to end you,” John Leguizamo tells Santa over the phone.

To me, that’s just good writing.

Lousy movies aside, I like this month more than most. Autumn starts late here, then lasts half the year. It’s why Perry Como wore sweaters all the time. It’s why Cher could keep her wool a little long.

Meanwhile, a winter day at the beach is like falling gently into a tinseled tree. There’s that old pier in the South Bay that serves clam chowder. I like to wobble over with my morning paper.

Basically, I’m a Saturday Evening Post cover come to life — a solo diner, in the copper-kettle light of late afternoon, reading a sports section nobody much bothers with anymore, staying till they close.

Please keep in mind that I’m a middling man, from a middling college, in the belly button of the country. I think that explains the zing of excitement, the bolt of thunder, that I now bring to almost every social encounter.

I mean, how else do you explain it?

As you may have heard, our holiday gin bash was just bonkers; Suzanne was there with a few of the Chardonnay Moms: Rita…Lucy… Nina…Deb. My pal Roswell, one of the last of the great raconteurs, rolled in with Pam. I love how chatty Americans are. I really do.

I gave a toast – I hate toasts – but gave one anyway. I saluted laughter and bonhomie, and all those other American virtues that can ward off the mid-winter blahs.

Back home, I overcooked a nice brisket. What a beautiful thing she was too, a tad ripe, yet with a layer of “bark,” the crusty, oaky, sugar coating brought on by long hours on the smoker.

Briskets take forever – eight to twelve hours — so I rose at dawn to walk White Fang and serenade her with her morning sonnets. Then I did one of my favorite things: I prepped the grill.

By noon, the 10-pound brisket was pretty much done, five hours earlier than planned.

So goes my life. So goes my January.

By the way, do you have a reading nook? I strongly urge that, as a post-holiday gift to yourself, as your cozy escape from all that other crap. I mean, a chair and a good lamp are all you really need.

 “Darkness sticks to everything,” the poet Tom Hennen once observed.

Yeah, sometimes. Crusty. Oaky.

So right after Christmas, I raided the local library for a pile of books. I’m a slow reader, so I gravitate to the used paperbacks, three for a buck. That way I can take my time, slurp the pages, re-read the passages that can bring the mind a bit of comfort.

Like this, from Margaret Atwood:

“We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.”

Where do you go when the days are long and gray?

Books, my love. Books.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our Gin & Tonic Society bash at Avignone’s in Montrose. Stay tuned for info on an upcoming hike. Meanwhile, please check out my website for gin glasses or books. Cheers!

16 thoughts on “Cotton in the Canyons

  1. Thanks for reminding us of all the treasures hidden in January, a month I normally dread. Books! Soups! Sweaters! Snoring dogs, like the two cuddled up next to me now as I slurp your electronic pages. You always open my eyes to the gifts of daily life. Gray, drippy skies! Bring it on. Thanks.

  2. sorry to hear about the brisket. I have found the key to good brisket is resting. Rule of thumb, however long you cooked it for, take half that time to rest.

    I now feel like soup, and a caramel colored bourbon.

  3. Chris, I second your love of this season. I have read two books in the last week and made a big pot of chile with cornbread during the rain.
    I also enjoyed the Montrose get together. It was a virginal experience, having never connected with you or the joyful tribe in attendance.
    I look forward to the next adventure.

  4. Briskets are very challenging. I haven’t mastered it yet. I”m saving up so I can ruin another one. I laughed out loud at ” I’m thinking of making soup, a burly/beany leather-colored stew that’s probably technically a psalm.” Of course it is. Finally, thank you for the Margaret Atwood quote. Happy to be, as Taylor Swift would put it, a blank space. Happy New Year, Chris!

    1. Hi Mike, I seem to nail everything but the brisket. The ribs and chicken turn out great. Even smoked a small turkey. Think my fire was a little hot. My thermometer broken, so that’s an obvious area. Onward!

  5. As Suzanne has essentially said, you do the big and the small easily and well. Such elegant yet earthy lyricism. It almost makes the gray sky light up. Wait. It does. “Throaty old singers; storms lining up like jumbo jets, copper kettle light; books, my love. Books”. Uniquely beautiful prose thrown off like a Winter scarf, the warmth pouring out like the steam from an opened pot of briskit. So fine.

    A New Year

    A new year is an arbitrary rhythm
    The earth’s conceit we have agreed to bear
    Time’s metronome another fantasy
    Of interval and precision of unknowns
    Clouding darkness and light with receding
    Answers to questions we cannot fathom;
    These imponderables make pondering
    Bearable, pondering itself replete
    With yawning chasms of time’s empty space
    So black and white have become like a hymn
    One sings in the dark, a belief in a whim
    The swirl of chaos the heavens enact
    So far yet so close, the wind in your ear;

    In Winter we gather, singing hot anthems
    Blow smoke at its frost of crystals and air
    The roar of a fire ‘s chaotic ecstasy
    More comfort we adore, random sparks thrown
    Into the cosmos, a violent bleeding
    Heart beating sunlight into the gloom;
    In this, making death a thing we can sing
    Give time remembering we can complete
    Dimensioning the dawns, making life a place
    Our emotions a river wherein we swim
    Thought a pretense—matter’s stratagem
    Our existence the nothing that is a fact
    Love the only closeness we can get near
    For our moment who would not create a year?…

    You have done that, Chris.

  6. It’s raining!
    More expected!
    As an eight decade native Angeleno, I’ve always enjoyed the storms of January.
    Makes it OK to hunker down to read in my cozy old house, burn my eucalyptus trimmings in my fireplace and share the warmth with my old GoldenLab.
    A welcome beautiful respite from our usual relentless days of balmy, warm and boiling sunshine.
    Slow down, you’re not missing anything!

  7. Happy New Year Chris to you and your beautiful family. Thanks for sharing and sorry about the brisket, better luck next time.Sometimes things are sweeter because of the wait.

  8. I love making soup in January, all the cold months, actually. And corn bread, yum. I have a delish white bean & ham soup I love, & chili of various styles. I’m reading Rebecca, because I never had to read it in high school.

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