Tag Archive 'winter solstice'

Dec 20 2017

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End Year Reflection

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Daybreak. Looking out the window of my study, I watch the dried leaves still clinging to a beech tree rustle in the wind against a dark grey and bluish-white background. The first light illuminates several inches of snow covering the ground. The denuded trees are motionless.

I have been up for a couple hours, printing out a recently revised manuscript, checking email, and reviewing the records I’ve kept of my activities stretching back through the years. The past year has been a busy one, to say the least. Then again, it seems like I’m always busy doing something. I’m lucky that way, I guess.

Whenever I reflect upon past events, I become a little melancholy. It’s not so much a sadness precipitated by any given event as it is a mounting awareness of the passage of time and a sense that things have happened without me fully experiencing them. This is silly, of course. We all live in the eternal present, and despite our best efforts mindfulness can only take us so far.

The past and the present are two different things. We live in the here/now. Our memories are something else – fractured, distorted, piecemeal, selective. There is always a separation between what I am in this moment and what I once was. And yet there is consistency as well. Memory is, after all, what shapes identity.

Sometimes it’s important to stop and think about where you’ve been, where you are, and where you’re going. This time of year seems like a good time to do that. The Winter Solstice is a turning of the page – the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. Before striking forth courageously into the future, one should have courage enough to acknowledge the past and what one has become as a result. This is what I try to do this time of year, anyhow, despite the holiday hoopla. It isn’t easy.

 

 

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Dec 16 2016

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Winter Blues

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winter-bluesThe other day Judy showed me this photo that she recently took out our back door in early morning. “Winter blues” she calls it.

There’s a coldness and a darkness to the picture, much in keeping with what many of us are feeling these days, yet there’s warmth and light in it as well. Double meaning. Leave it to my wife to capture both moods of this season in one image.

I find the darkness this time of year hard to take, not to mention the bitter cold, but the charm of winter does not escape me. There are times when I marvel at the beauty of illuminated clouds strewn across a deep blue sky, appreciate the clean simplicity of the earth blanketed by fresh snow, and accept the dormancy of leafless trees as Nature’s way.

I spot several deer slipping through the forest one morning and suddenly I have nothing to complain about. At the end of any walk I take there’s always a warm house with plenty of food in the cupboards. Not everyone has it so easy.

The blues, yes, Judy and I both feel it. We miss the green world, the barefoot days, fresh produce, and those gentle gusts of warm summer air wafting through the window. But that’ll all come back soon enough. Nature cycles round and round…

How’s that saying go? Curse the darkness or light a candle. There are two ways to approach nearly everything – two entirely different attitudes. Not so much the picture as it is how we look at it. The shortest, darkest day of the year is almost upon us. Then things will swing the other way. And that’s reason enough, I think, to celebrate.

 

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Dec 17 2015

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A Short Gray Day

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December Rail TrailAfter a productive morning on the computer, I went to the nearby rail trail to stretch my legs and clear my head. The sky overhead was full of clouds so I wasn’t real excited about getting outdoors. But the midday temps were well above freezing. That meant the walk would be pleasant enough.

The sun, hanging low in the southern sky, peeked through the clouds just as I was starting out. That was the last of it, though. A stiff breeze blew in more clouds from the west a few minutes later, obscuring the sun and assuring that it’ll rain this evening.

Here in northern Vermont, the sun rose at 7:24 this morning. It’ll set at 4:12 this afternoon. Yeah, it’s that time of year – a tough time for those of us who are energized by light.

Chickadees flitted through the trees, adding a little cheer to an otherwise dreary day. I flushed a great blue heron from a small brook. My dog Matika was happy just to trot along and sniff around. Watching her, I couldn’t help but wonder if perhaps I think too much.

Nature has its moods. It is best to roll with them, I kept telling myself. So I focused on the warm air, and the clear path underfoot as I walked – a rarity in mid-December. Be grateful for that. The deep cold and heavy snow will come soon enough.

The days will start getting longer in a couple weeks. Until then, I’ll illuminate the tree in my living room as grey light gives way to twilight. In fact, it’s time to do that now. In the absence of the real thing, artificial light will have to do.

 

 

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Dec 23 2014

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December Tramping

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SnowyTrailThe cold, the snow, the darkness. Some people are so preoccupied by the holidays that they hardly notice it. Others live strictly indoor lives. What’s going on outdoors matters little to them. Skiers are eternal optimists. All they see is an opportunity to glide down mountains in wintry glee. Then there are those of us who consider this time of year an ordeal.

The Microspikes that I pull over my boots make it easy to negotiate the snow-packed trail. It’s almost as good as summer hiking. I skirt the few barren patches to keep from bending the spikes. Scrambling over ice is kind of fun. The spikes work well.

The cold is tolerable as long as I’m moving. Having a good base layer of clothing is key. My dog Matika has a heavy fur coat so she actually enjoys these frosty temps.

The darkness – ah, there’s the rub. Around the Winter Solstice, it’s pretty hard to take. But getting outdoors helps, even when the sky is endlessly overcast.

One thing is for certain: a December tramp is better than sitting around the house brooding.

 

 

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Dec 09 2014

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Lighting the Darkness

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xmas lightsI used to be one of those people who complained about the crass commercialization of Christmas. Then I spent decades being annoyed by the cheap sentimentality and unrealistic expectations of it all. Interspersed through the years, of course, were occasional moments of true joy in the company of family and friends, but I chose to downplay that. Or simply take those moments for granted. I focused instead on the Winter Solstice, the interplay of darkness and light, which is what the ancients celebrated this time of year, long before there was any talk of a coming Messiah.

When I was a child, I basked in the wonder and mystery of Christmas. That evolved into the wonder and mystery of nature when I became an adult. Not quite the same thing, really, but closer than one might think. There is something about the world that defies reason, that goes beyond words – something rooted in unknowing, that is. Something mysterious. And it has been with us since the dawn of human consciousness.

Nowadays, when this season rolls around, I see things a little differently. I pick through the rituals, choosing those that mean something to me, while trying to show a little compassion towards those doing what they can to muddle through the dark season. It isn’t an easy time of year for anyone except children, who haven’t had time enough to accumulate all the emotional baggage that we adults carry around.

A couple days ago, I nailed lights to my house. Then my wife Judy and I put up a tree in our living room and decorated it. Yessir, we’re doing our part to light up the darkness despite the apparent frivolity of it all. And why not? The darkness is real. The sun is close to being as low on the horizon as it can get. The nights are long indeed. And the memories of Christmases past haunt us whether we like it or not. After all, we are only human.

 

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Dec 21 2013

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Winter Solstice

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winter woodsToday is the shortest day. Today winter begins. As someone who loves everything green and growing, not to mention daylight, I find this to be a tough time of year. I am not alone in this.

I believe that the holidays were invented to help us cope with the darkness, and to ease the transition into the cold season. Hope, joy, love, and everything warm and bright indoors – we certainly make the best of things, don’t we? I have lights on my house, a decorated tree in my living room, and holiday cards on full display. Yeah, I too take the Winter Solstice seriously.

The other day I went for a walk in the woods. There was enough snow on the ground to cover up the starkness of the landscape and the snow-laden boughs of conifers were easy on the eye. I was chilled at first but exertion got my blood flowing. After a while I started thinking: “This isn’t so bad.”

Oddly enough, winter is the hardest to take when we are struggling to get from our homes to somewhere else by car or some other mode of fast transportation. On foot, in the woods, it’s not so bad at all.

While sitting at home and listening to weather forecasters, it seems like disaster is imminent. The forest tells another story: temperatures rise, then they fall. Storms come, then the sky breaks open. And the seasons cycle round and round.

Winter is nothing to get all stressed out about. Worst case scenario, stay off the road. There’s plenty to do indoors. And when the walls start closing in, go for a walk. If nothing else, it’ll help you appreciate what your furnace or fireplace provides.

 

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Dec 18 2012

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Darkness and Light

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We spend half our waking hours in the dark this time of year. Not so much an issue when we’re indoors, but outside we sure notice it. So it’s nice to see the colored lights strung everywhere. They’re festive. More importantly, they diminish the impact of darkness in early winter, making it easier to tolerate.

Even though I’m no big fan of Christmas, I put lights on my house. I like seeing them there when I come home from work late at night. They make me smile no matter what kind of day I’ve had.

Pagans dragged trees into their houses and celebrated the Winter Solstice with light long before Christians hijacked the holiday. It makes sense, really. Why not light a candle on the darkest day of the year? No sense sitting in the dark and whining about it.

Winter is just beginning. There’s a month lag between the shortest day of the year and the meteorological middle of this season. Yeah, that means the temperatures drop even as the days lengthen in January. Then it’s another two-month crawl out of winter – here in northern New England, anyhow. That’s a dismal prospect for those of us who neither ski nor snowmobile. Oh sure, I’ve polyurethaned my snowshoes and will break them out when the first big dump of the white stuff occurs. But I do so reluctantly. I much prefer the greener half of the year.

Forget about summertime. The Winter Solstice is upon us. Boil up water for tea or hot chocolate, revel in the indoor warmth and light, and surround your self with friends and loved ones. Plenty of time for dark thoughts later. ‘Tis the season. What the hell, why not take whatever pleasure you can from it?

 

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Dec 20 2011

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The Dark Season

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I can’t help but think of the holiday hoopla as a distraction from the dark season. With the days brutally short, temperatures dropping and all the green gone, this is a tough time of year. So we drag evergreens into our houses, put up colorful lights, then engage in a series of elaborate rituals that keep us busy until we can get used to winter. I do it and I’m not even a Christian. Many of my nature-loving friends aren’t Christians either, yet we exchange greeting cards. Write it off to cultural pressure if you want, but the truth is that we all welcome the distraction. The days surrounding the Winter Solstice are hard to take.

There wasn’t time enough to get into the woods yesterday so my dog Matika and I did the next best thing. We went for a long walk on a nearby section of the Rail Trail. The naked trees clattered in a fierce wind. The ground underfoot was frozen solid, and the endlessly grey sky overhead provided no solace. Yet it felt good to get out and stretch the legs. Properly dressed, the chill wasn’t too bad.

From Ebeneser Scrooge to the Grinch, those who don’t embrace the holidays are held in low regard. And rightly so. It’s hard enough getting through these dark days without the extra negativity. There are frigid months ahead, so break out the sweets, strong spirits and good cheer. Whatever gets us through this darkness is a good thing.

Oh sure, there’s the hyper commercialism of Christmas to criticize, but what’s the difference between December and the rest of the year? Only the intensity. Fact is, we live in a consumer culture. Christmas is merely the grand finale – the climax to an orgy of spending that begins anew every January. Complaining about that is like complaining about sunlight . . . or the lack thereof.

No doubt I’ll be taking more winter walks in the weeks ahead. No doubt I’ll be daydreaming about the greener season while I’m slogging across snow and ice. But I wouldn’t want to live in the southern latitudes where the darkness is much less pronounced. This way I don’t take anything for granted, not even the sun rising.

 

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