So, I opened my eyes this morning and there it was.


I went to bed on deadline last night full of desperation, as I had no column on my laptop. Well, there was something, 743 words of something. But it was crap.

I have written a column for 33 years without missing a week. What if — I thought, as I closed my eyes — I had died in my sleep without a column for this week?

This is my 35th Christmas in Maine. If you have grown up here and you, like the nostalgic writer Amy Calder, have lived most of your life here, your winters have probably been Norman Rockwell-ish, full of remembered candy and family warmth, and that’s healthy and lucky and very good. I envy that.

My youth was chaotic and mismanaged. I was moved around the map the way people rearrange furniture. I have this calendar in a room in my head full of the voices of the dead. It’s also all full of winter scenes of the places I’ve been cold in.

1953. Waking up in Japan on the day of the first snow in my little village was enchanting. When it snowed in those early days, the streets were full of women carrying brightly colored umbrellas. Shamanistic.

From my little house in the village of Fuchu, I could see Mount Fuji. At dawn, when the sun kisses this holy place, it turns cherry-blossom pink. Magic.

On my first Christmas morning there when the snow had settled, the lights of the village came on, the cooking pots started, and somewhere down our graveled street someone played a few notes on a shakuhachi flute. It was then I thought maybe I could live there for the rest of my life.

Of course, my secret little air base is abandoned now, the village swallowed up by the 21st century. I wouldn’t want to see that.

It doesn’t snow in Hong Kong, or at least it didn’t when I was there. A winter morning there is full of crowded streets and a-thousand-and-one smells. Hong Kong had its own magic, but it has no snow.

New Yorkers wake up and see the snow and curse. But when you’re young and in love in Manhattan, every day is full of color and hope, but snow holds magic for only about five minutes.

New Yorkers are always late for work. They step into the street, over the black garbage bags and the homeless people sleeping on a flattened Christmas box atop a steam grate. Yes.

Then it’s down into the subway, where the aroma is of urine and wet wool, and the burning smell of the subway cars’ brakes as they appear in front of you like a dragon from a J.K. Rowling story. Magic can die down there if you let it.

When young people tell me of their Christmas visit to Manhattan, and how they would love to live there in that Ozian glass and steel landscape, I just smile and keep my mouth shut. I know there were no rats or roaches in their Times Square hotels. That’s OK; magic is all relative.

San Francisco has no snow. San Francisco is America’s Hong Kong, a city of streets full of scents. New York has odors; San Francisco has scents.

L.A., the City of Angels, my last stop before arriving here, still smells of the people who lived there before white people ruined it. The aroma of tamales and mole sauce clings to the clothes of old dancers who now cut grass for a living and keep their heads down.

This was their land once. No more. It’s full of fear this Christmas. There is sadness here as well, as Latinos throughout the city are lighting candles for the soul of little Jakelin Caal Maquin, a child with the frail body of a sparrow, who walked a thousand miles from Guatemala only to die in the New Mexico dust.

And not far away on this day when we celebrate the birth of the son of God, the devil is building a wall.

It’s snowing again in my new village, and I still need to write a column. Oh! I just did. Now, that’s magic.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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