Last weekend, as if trying to outwit a forensic scientist, I went from room to room, slowly attempting to remove every trace of Christmas from the house.
Back into their plastic bins went the ornaments and lights, the Santa Claus beverage coasters, the garland, the Saint Nick music box, two creches, a pillow covered in holiday plaid, a set of alphabet blocks spelling “Merry Christmas.”
But even after an afternoon of repacking, I left not-so-subtle evidence that the holidays had visited us. Tiny tree needles still cling to the carpet, and they’ll continue to prick unsuspecting feet until spring. I’m sure I’ll find a stray ornament beneath the sofa long after winter has passed. A few mornings ago, I noticed a strand of red ribbon behind the end table, lying in neglect like a lock of hair from a long-ago lover.
Once carried over the threshold and into the den, Christmas doesn’t leave a house so easily. It marks our family still, even though we’ve rewound the wall clock that lay silent behind the tree all yuletide. The first chiming of the clock after its Christmas sleep is a sign that we’ve returned to Regular Time, the daily routine that includes work and school, a calendar ordered by weekdays and weekends.
But sitting in my armchair and sipping coffee in early January, I have no doubt that the holidays are over. My retinas tell me that this is so.
With the cheerful glitter and glare of December now mostly entombed in the backyard shed, the tone of the house has gone from MGM Technicolor to Warner Bros. film noir. The walls suddenly seem gray.
But there’s still plenty of color in the house, once my eyes have adjusted enough to recognize it. With the gaudy tree now picked bare and hauled to the curb, the Audubon book covering half the coffee table has reclaimed its rightful place of authority in the household decor.
A new edition of Audubon’s “The Birds of America” arrived last autumn after I’d accepted an assignment to write about it, and it continues to dominate the living room.
Audubon’s like that; he was larger than life when he walked the wilds of Louisiana in the 19th century, and he’s not about to let so trifling a thing as death put a crimp in his out-size personality.
The new edition, the brainchild of art conservator Joel Oppenheimer, boasts pages that are more than 20 inches tall and 13 inches wide. It weighs 33 pounds. I keep it in the middle of the room because it’s a striking thing of beauty, but also because I don’t want to spend so much strength in moving it. Having “The Birds of America” in your house is like owning a baby grand piano. Its care and feeding require a hundred little accommodations, but you make the sacrifice because art is supposed to stretch us, in some way, past the limits we like to put on ourselves.
Or so I like to think as I warm my hands around Audubon’s bird prints, good medicine for the steel-wool sky outside the window.