Northwest winds sweep through the hills, bringing their cold message of winter, transporting snow from Lake Ontario all the way down here to the southeast Catskills. Swirling snow-devils dance their white dervish dance, tearing reluctant leaves, themselves remnants of this season past, from branch and bough. Only the brazen Bluejays, Chickadees and other small birds venture forth, hardy creatures bred through the millennia to persevere - even thrive - in this harsh season. Winter is our desert, when life hides and folds itself into nooks out of the wind, under the bark of trees or into burrows dug deep by creatures trying to sleep through 'til Spring-time and warmth. I can identify, in a way. Until I get used to the winter thing I basically feel the same way - "Let me sleep and wake me when it's warm again". I will get into it eventually, I always do. I become fascinated by the illusion of lifelessness, knowing much is hidden, and will poke around, under leaf and rock, looking for that vibrant dormancy, the eternal conundrum of life amidst death, of the eternal Will to Live even in our cold, white, snowy desert.
DARKNESS RULES, SHADOWS LENGTHEN
As the days get shorter and shorter, and we wend our way darkly to the Winter Solstice - that magical, scary time of year when light itself seems to disappear, seemingly sucked into the cold, dark vortex of mid-winter, life drawing in on itself, we can be forgiven for wondering - as our ancient ancestors most certainly did - when is the Sun ever going to return? We know rationally that this great time of change draws near, this watershed of light, one of the major markers of our natural yearly solar cycle, when finally light and life will ever-so-gradually start returning to our corner of the southeast Catskills, yet it is natural for us all - creatures of light - to yearn for relief from the unending darkness. Nature is reminding us of our small place in the universe.
So far, this winter (technically it’s not “officially” winter ‘til Dec. 21, but it looks enough like winter to me) is a real rollercoaster-ride to the Solstice, up and down, freeze and thaw. The poor bears (and people) must be confused - nap or not? But there’s nothing like darkness and cold to make humans appreciate brightness and warmth - and each other. This is probably why in many cultures in the northern hemisphere, fire-ceremonies are paramount at this time (Cherokee, Iroquois and Umatilla in North America, the Celts and Teutonic peoples of Northern Europe, as well, for example. I’m sure there are more.). Another interesting correlation found across cultures is the Sacred Tree, usually an evergreen to symbolize the steadfastness of Life. Watching the Sun - the source of light and life - steadily dwindle in strength could not have been easy for the ancients (heck, it’s not easy for us!) and therefore it was of paramount importance to know that it would gradually resume its former power - the Unconquered Sun of old. That day, when the sun was at its weakest, when darkness seemed to rule, was when many cultures chose to celebrate the return of the sun in myriad festivals of light. For archaic Northern European and North American peoples who were strictly subsistence-oriented huntergatherers, having to depend on the plenitude (or lack thereof) of wild foods, this must have been a scary time. Sometimes clans or even whole tribes had to attempt to migrate in midwinter to seek the assistance of other tribes, at times being absorbed by them. As time progressed, and peoples settled down and became more agrarian, it also became important to know when to plant (it’s usually about 100 days from the solstice to planting-time at our latitude). Kind of like how we now know how many days ‘til Opening Day of baseball.
LIKE EMBERS FADING, BUT THE FIRE WILL RETURN
As the fall colors of 2019 slowly dissipate, melting into the Catskills landscape, they gradually change into the more somber tones we associate with winter. Sort of like a fire, if you consider midsummer the highest fire-flame, then now you might see the embers fade, almost as if the fire is going out. Luckily for us, the fire of life in the earth never really goes out, but just hides in plain sight, hidden under bark or deep in root, waiting for warmth to return. It's almost like a
fire that has been well-banked to keep the buried embers hot to wait for the spring-time, the season of life, for them to be stoked back to warm vibrancy. Yes, the Sun will return and the days will lengthen. In the meanwhile, we have the opportunity for introspection that only winter can bring. Time to contemplate what we’ve learned from the past year and how to apply those lessons to the future. Please be careful out there. Always have a light with you when venturing into the winter woods - even just for a short walk - our wan sunlight fades fast. Dress warmly in layers, keep your head, hands and feet warm and dry. Most important, though - think warm thoughts! (?) Thank You All for having shared this last spin around Sol with me, for always supporting my endeavors, both inner and outdoor. I hope that I can do better than I did last year and I pray that we can all help each other, particularly in this very dark time (and I do mean that in different ways). I wish that I had more to give to everyone and I truly hope that this - my small gift of words - will be accepted as a mere token of my thoughts and prayers for us all. Please, let’s all try to be kind and extra patient with each other in this (and any) time. Have a Cool Yule and a Happy, Safe New Year. When you read my next Note, the days will be longer and we’ll be on the “downhill” side, heading towards Spring! Yay!
Take Care, “Ranger” Dave Holden
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