The god Janus gives his name to the month of January, a name meaning passage or doorway. Janus is usually pictured as a two-headed deity, with the gift of seeing two ways; he looks forward and behind, simultaneously. He is bearded and smooth-faced, old and young. On this first day of January, sitting at my desk, I look out at green woods, where animal trails lead away from the house and towards it. Last week a quartet of Roosevelt elk found their way to us, two cows, one lying down in moss while the other kept watch, and their two calves, half-grown, grazed on periwinkle and lichen.
The god of whom Ovid wrote,
Two-headed Janus, source of the silently gliding year,
The only god who is able to see behind him
I am thinking of that double seeing this morning, particularly the ability to see behind oneself, having spent a couple of days in Victoria, the city where I was a child. As we drove from the hotel where we stayed to Cattle Point for a walk among the oaks, I kept saying, Well, we’re approaching another Memory Lane, because the city is threaded with them, tangled with them. The road running past the funny old apartment, formerly a movie theatre, a place where I found myself as a writer. (A ground-floor suite, where once someone reached in my bathroom window while I was in the bath to borrow matches from a box on the sill.)
The roads in and around Clover Point where I rode a small blue bike, exploring the edges of the known world, and where I once ventured as far as Thunderbird Park where I watched Kwakwaka‘wakw master carver Mungo Martin working on something, I don’t remember what exactly, but I do remember curls of cedar falling from his hands and how he showed me the sharp adze he was using. (I think it was an adze.) The road leading off the highway to the beach where I swam my horse on hot summer mornings, leaving the saddle on a log at the high tide line. Sometimes I’d ride him bareback along the sand afterwards, to dry out, seaweed trailing from his fetlocks. A curve of Rockland Avenue where I first knocked on a door that opened to something I am still trying to puzzle my way through. On that particular Memory Lane, we slowed the car so I could see if the studio where I sat on a flowered cloth for hours was still there, and yes, it was, or at least its windows were, multi-paned and mysterious.
Later in the week, I will have a birthday. Not a significant one, unless they all are; but one that guides me into the last years of a decade. So much undone still, so much to finish.
Janus is often depicted with a key in his right hand. He could open any door, the one you dream of, the one you stepped through into a new life, and the one you watch for now, the door into the dark.
All I know is a door into the dark,
Outside, old axles and iron hoops rusting;
Inside, the hammered anvil’s short-pitched ring
Last night someone was taking the old year into the new with fireworks, not exactly an anvil and hammer striking sparks, but loud bursts like gunshot in the night. It reminded me that Janus is also represents the middle ground between barbarism and peace. Oh, a god we need now, in a world torn apart and burning, to look back at our excesses and perhaps point to the possibilities of our better nature.