Winter Solstice, 2018

Today gives us sunshine, here in my particular piece of the Northern Hemisphere, and a reprieve from howling winds and slashing rain. How appropriate, on this day to mark the return of the light. The skies have been dark and lowering, and have seemed to hem us in to smaller space – and now, viscerally we unfurl and stretch and luxuriate, however briefly. 

 

Yes, this day marks the first day of winter, my imaginary friend, and the longest night of the year; but it also marks the fact that the days grow ever longer from this point to the summer solstice. I am reminded of Janus, that Roman god of portals and doorways, the god who looks forward and backward at the same time. Even as we enter the northern winter, and nature around us seems at a standstill, underground the work of preparing for the vibrant growth of spring carries on …roots burrowing deep into soil to build a strong framework, this burrowing, hibernating, and seeming rest simple a less visible energy. As Janus reminds us, to move forward one must remain firmly rooted, whether to build anew or to make radical change. 

 

The ancients, it seems had a way of acknowledging the solstices, the equinoxes, the cross-quarter days as portals of movement around the wheel of the year – the seasons of the year as circle, the years as circles that spiral, the spiral itself a potent symbol of ever-upward movement that rests upon what went before. 

 

‘Tis a symbol that resonates powerfully for me. May you find light and cheer in this festive season, and discover the wonder and beauty in nature’s quietness. Blessings of the solstice. 

 

Pincer Tree, photographed by John Lake.

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Winter Solstice

*first published December, 2011

 

I love this day, perhaps in part for the romance of unbroken centuries of denizens of the northern hemisphere celebrating the return of the light. True, it is not as exhilarating as watching the sun rise over jagged mountain peaks on Midsummer Day, yet the summer solstice is tinged with the faint regret of being at the apex from which the days will slowly but surely become shorter. But now, in mere moments, the days here will begin to lengthen, and the promise of everything to come is very sweet.

I have observed and marked the solstices as long as I can remember in some fashion or another, and I confess to surprise at people who pass them by, unremarked. For thousands of years they have been important celebrations in a myriad of cultures, and I suspect that something is lost to modern life when they are unnoticed. One need not be a follower of paganism, or druidism, or some colourful new age ritualism to appreciate the beauty and symmetry of the solstice.

It would be cliché to say that many modern peoples have lost touch with nature: indeed we are earnestly advised of the ‘nature deficit’ we suffer from. For myself, the hills and valleys, forests and rivers, oceans and expanses of sky form such an integral part of me, of who I am and how my very self has come to be…I observed my fellow citizens out and about today, a gorgeously sunny day, a peach of a day in the rain forest climate that I live in, and they were enjoying the parks and walkways and trails. So maybe, I would say, at least here in this place, we do not suffer from deficit of nature, but from a deficit of wonder…Maybe.

The wonder of axial tilt, that the earth’s magical, invisible axis tilts at an angle to the perpendicular that gives us the seasons of the northern and southern hemispheres, this mysterious, cyclical round of birth, growth, flowering, decaying, and dying…this seems to me to be a source of endless wonder.

That me! I! should be a part of this great cosmic order – perhaps you call it God? I do not think it matters, although in writing that I run the risk of offending some, I suppose. But if I have offended you, I hope you will take a deep breath, and join me in a hymn of praise to axial tilt. To the beauty and sheer magic of being alive on this earth, both its measured order and its chaotic uncertainties, for in this hymn of praise shall we discover what it means to be fully human.

To be fully present to the wonder is to live as humans were meant to live, I think. And by our presence, to turn the wheel one more time to the promise of all that lies ahead. Axial tilt is a wondrous thing.

 

wintersolstice