Janus was the god of new beginnings and doorways and gates. The early Greek and Roman people had two
replicas of Janus hung at every city gate, one looking in each direction to protect them from their enemies from the outside as well as those within.
They also named the first month of the new year for him. It seems quite logical that these people who believed in so many gods and fables should have a god to protect them when they left their walled and gated cities, and they were intelligent enough to know that some of their enemies might come from within.
The further honor of naming the first month of the year for him was enlisting his aid in surviving the winter and ensuring the return of the sun. January is often referred to as the month of fire and ice. In January, winter has settled in and in many places, it is the coldest month of the year. Yet it is not unusual to suddenly have a warm spring-like day.
Bill and I often celebrated Dec. 21 not as the first day of winter but as the first day of spring. This was because the winter solstice marked the shortest day of the year, and from then on, each day became a little longer, and although the nights are bitter cold, there is a promise of spring, and the longer days assure us of the return of the sun.
Bill loved spring with all its promise. Like early man, he worshipped the return of the sun because it brought summer and the birds he loved so much. The records kept by the weather bureau over the past 100 years show that the coldest month of the year is actually December for after the winter solstice, the cold intensified, and it seemed like spring would never come.
When we were newcomers to Colorado, we had over a week of below-zero weather in early January. This occurred for a few years in a row, and everyone was delighted because everyone was hoping that it would kill the rampant Rocky Mountain pine beetles. It must have helped since the beetles began to decline and for the next few years were less abundant.
At any rate, it seems to me that our coldest weather comes in late December and early January. After this cold period, it seems like we can have a nice spring-like day or night frequently. Sometimes it is a bright sunny day when we are tempted to take the winter mulch off the garden; other times, it is a warm night when we first smell the odor of skunk in the air.
However, by the time the March equinox rolls around, we know spring is here even if it may be snowing. However, if Janus has brought us good weather, we know spring is here. The days are lengthening. Many of the waterfowl and a few of the hardier land birds are beginning to return. Janus has kept his word, and the sun has returned. Now the rest of the month of January lies ahead of us — cold and beautiful.
As I write today, my feeders are full of winter birds. Chickadees come and go a few at a time as do the white-breasted and red-breasted nuthatches.
However, the pygmy nuthatches are swarming over the peanut feeder like bees. They come and go so frequently that there seems to be a big commotion, and I can scarcely count them. Today, the highest count I could get was eight actually on the feeder at one time, plus five on the sunflower seed feeder, some on the ground beneath the feeders and some nearby, fluttering and waiting to get on any of the feeders.
My guess, there may be between 20 and 25 birds, but that’s a very sloppy count, and I can’t make it any more accurate.
I often wonder how they learned to eat peanuts. Their native food is pinecone seeds, which they obtain from cones out on the tips of branches. How did they learn to leave the treetops and drop down to the ground to eat peanuts? I don’t know, but I do know they love the taste.
They have always liked my bird pudding, but when I make it with part peanut butter, they can’t wait to eat it all up. I am happy to see them doing so well for their numbers declined drastically during the 70s when there was so much aerial spraying for pine beetles. It took a long time, but now it seems their population has returned to about what it was 30 years ago. I am glad to see them back for they are such a delight.