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Filling in the year’s calendar

In preparing to welcome 2018, I purchased a new desktop calendar. It has a page for each month, blocks for marking commitments and space for general notes. It also came preprinted with information about notable days in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world. I learned that May 8 will be National Teacher Day and that our Canadian friends will celebrate Victoria Day on May 21.

I’m sure the special dates provided are significant to the folks involved, but the first thing I did with my new calendar was record dates that were more noteworthy to me. I started with birthdays and anniversaries of family members. Somehow the year’s days always start rushing by faster than my mental clock’s ability to keep pace, and without something to nudge my memory, I’m apt to send an April birthday greeting in midsummer. Modern technology could enable the automating of this task with a perpetual digital calendar and reminders, but my electronic devices already blink and bleep so often I ignore them. Plus, it feels more tangible to inscribe an event on a physical object.

Next, I recorded appointments and commitments I’ve already made. Some are exciting, such as noting the day a new piece of furniture is expected to arrive. Others are less thrilling, such as the appointment to get my taxes done. Work notes, volunteer promises, a doctor here, a dentist there. Once all those obligations were duly noted, I moved on to considering when to have fun. Is an evening open to invite a friend to visit? Are any weekends available for a quick trip to the beach? When might we go on vacation?

One enjoyable planning task that falls to my husband and me at the start of the year is to submit suggested dates for astronomy programs at High Bridge Trail State Park. My calendar helps me to look ahead and tell whether a crescent moon may highlight the beauty of an evening or if the bright light of a full moon will wash out the ability to see anything other than the brightest stars. The seasonal turning of the sky’s celestial highlights presents an array of choices. If we want to observe the Lagoon Nebula, we need to wait until it rises over the horizon in the summer, but if we want to see the Orion Nebula, we need to catch it before it sets at winter’s end.

I like the predictability of astronomical phenomena. Change may come slowly to the skies overhead, but it comes steadily. Every night stars return to a specific spot four minutes earlier than the evening before. Four minutes over the course of a 24-hour day may not sound like a lot until you do the math. In a month’s time, the stars move by about two hours. The constellations I saw during the predawn hours of an October morning will be in the sky during January’s evenings.

Yet, although the skies move like clockwork, plans to observe specific phenomena include an element of chance. I may be able to guess that an evening in June will be warmer than one in December, but that type of speculation doesn’t tell me which nights will feature clear skies and which ones will bring tempests. The untamed sky offers many surprises. A bright meteor flashes. A sunset turns crimson and salmon. A gigantic moon peeks over the tree line. Some surprises disappointment. A long-awaited eclipse is itself eclipsed by heavy clouds. A comet disintegrates into obscurity. Equipment doesn’t work. The busyness of life intrudes.

These types of uncertainty also accompany everything I mark in my calendar. I may reliably expect that February will follow January, but I’ve been learning about the perils of holding too tightly to well-made plans. So this year, even though my calendar is filling, I hope I have the flexibility to make the best of the circumstances that reveal themselves. If it rains, I want to make a splash. If it snows, I want to enjoy the hush of winter. And, if the skies are clear, I want to rejoice in the moment. If I can do that, it will certainly be a happy new year.

KAREN BELLENIR has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. You can contact Karen at kbellenir@PierPress.com.