The Velvety Dark
of the winter solstice
After a pretty warm late fall, snow now covers everything. Last week’s slow moving winter weather system dropped about 10 to 12 inches (and much more a bit further north!) on the St. Croix River valley. There’s been no wind, so the trees remain frosted with snowy white icing. The otters have been popping out of holes down on the lake, but as of this morning I think that’s done for now since temperatures dropped below zero overnight, effectively freezing up any open water that had been lingering. I’ve been out shoveling snow from the sides of the high tunnel so it doesn’t collapse or get punctured by ice— which reminds me to be extra appreciative of the full time vegetable farmers who help keep us in produce (and who usually have more than one high tunnel to keep clear all winter…).
At any rate, winter has arrived in full just in time for the solstice later this week. I generally like this shift of seasons and its muted beauty and the way snow impacts how things sound outside. (Embracing the seasonal shift improves one’s quality of life in cold climates quite a lot.) Cross country skiing and snowshoeing keep me moving in ways that I enjoy, and I’m deeply thankful for the woodstove that heats things up in the evening once the family is all home and settled in after the activities of the day.
Of course, these days of looming winter are hard, too—seasonal affective disorder is prevelent here in the north country, and the world remains tumultuous and chaotic. Food is expensive. War continues, viruses still exist, and everyday stress, anxiety, or depression doesn’t cease just because it’s the season of cheer and glad tidings.
Darkness is deep and wide this time of year. There can be lot of time to think or too much to do, sometimes the same day. Hard things remain hard.
So I try to find the velvet in the long nights. To notice light where it lingers, because it does, sometimes, even during dark days. To remember that my creatureliness holds hands with the holy ordinary that binds the days together. I try to forgive mysel for finding hard things hard and to find the right balance of facing fierce winds outside and burrowing in blankets on the couch.
Now, in no particular order…a few musings on winter solstice.
Winter solstice—shortest day, longest night—
in a stretch of years defined by “unprecedented” could be pretty bleak. Light and dark are as far from balanced as it gets. A few years ago during this time of year, planets aligned in once in a lifetime ways, and the moon was eclipsed by blood. Much of the globe was, and is still, shrouded in darkness, literally and figuratively, sometimes both. It’s cold at my house, and wind is just starting to hiss after days of stillness. I look up outside and see mostly clouds. But my candle still flickers against an inky black sky, and the wind, if I listen closely, doesn’t hiss. It hums an ancient rhythm that is woven deeper than anything unprecedented ever could.
As the longest night
approaches, inviting us
into a new season, the muskrat
I saw swimming earlier today, so alive
beneath ice four inches thick,
is a reminder to recognize that life
can spring forth, swimming furiously,
from the most unexpected places.
Solstice time is a turning, the fading of one season into the next, another rotation in the great wheel.
Here's to the velvety dark days ahead. Wishing you enough bright icing to smooth any rough edges. As Maggie Smith wrote, “Yes, there’s darkness—in this world and in your one, small life—but there is also light streaming in from many directions. Some is coming from so far off, it hasn’t reached you yet. Turn your face to it as often as you can. No darkness deserves your full attention.” May you forgive yourself for finding hard things hard and allow the light that remains to reach you. May you recognize that life can spring forth, swimming furiously, from the most unexpected places. May you let the light find you and burrow when necessary into the warmth of the lingering velvety dark.
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Of course, embracing winter and the cold and snow, are much much easier to do when you are not dealing with mobility issues and have a warm & safe place to sleep at night.