David Bouchier

As usual at this time of year the neighborhood seems to be emptying out as our local climate refugees head south for the sunshine. If they’re not gone already they will be on their way in the next few days. Costa Rica seems to be popular this year, and the Bahamas of course, and even good old Florida although Florida has had terrible weather so far. Whatever horrors winter has in store for us in the northeast a lot of our neighbors prefer not to share the experience.

If you go strolling in the Avalon Nature Preserve in Stony Brook on Long Island you may be surprised by the sight of a large silver sphere, almost hidden in the long grass. The first time I saw it I imagined that the aliens really had landed at last. These visitors from outer space have populated our imaginations ever since H.G.Wells introduced us to the inhabitants of Mars and the moon more than a hundred years ago, and now they have come roaring and beeping back in the latest Star Wars movie. I am interested in aliens.

Spying is a very ancient profession. Two thousand years ago ancient Rome was full of spies, employed by emperors, powerful senators and priests to keep a secret eye on the population and sniff out any hint of treachery or unorthodoxy. They were kept busy, but they had limited techniques at their disposal: listening at doors, bribing informers, and simply watching the people they suspected. It must have been hard and unproductive work to be a Roman spy, and everybody hated them.

It’s January, it’s a New Year, and the bills for the holidays are beginning to come in. All those happy credit card purchases that seemed so effortless at the time now, suddenly, have a real price tag attached. We often hear how much simpler and less expensive The Holidays were in “the old days,” and it’s true, I was there in the old days, and I remember that Christmas gifts in particular were annoyingly small and cheap. Children naturally prefer flashy and expensive, and I can’t help feeling some envy for the kids of today.

This strange, unfocussed interval between Christmas and New Year seems to depress and disorient a lot of people. In the not too distant past, when we were not expected to be so frantically busy, this whole period was an extended winter festival dedicated to family visits, religious observances, and just having fun. In England in the Middle Ages it was a time of continuous feasting and merrymaking, which never stopped until Twelfth Night, January 6th, the traditional end of the Christmas season.