Tag Archives: winter

A Little Light Music

winterHere we are, well into the free-fall frenzy of the final month of the year, the now super-sized holiday season that appears to be a whopping two months long instead of what used to be individual days separated by weeks of ordinary days. Growing up in my house, there was a a polar oppositeness in the recognition and observation of holidays. Dad was more of a humbug guy and, other than enjoying the fruits of all the womenfolks’ labors that resulted in a cornucopia of plenty to savor, he would have preferred to continue his daily routine uninterrupted by such unnecessary rituals.

Mom, on the other hand, believed in the magic bestowed upon special days. Probably a little too much, but maybe it was her way of trying to tip the balance from Dad’s point of view. Or maybe she just preferred fantasy. The downside of holidays is having too much expectation and always being disappointed in the reality. Between the two of them, she was likely the most unhappy as a result of holiday cheer; and, despite the evidence to the contrary, her hope sprang eternal.

Their children, as an offshoot of this bipolar environment, chose to reject traditional holidays and their underpinnings – much like Dad did – but, rather, decided to find magic in the real as opposed to the fictitious – a healthier Mom. What this means is that we resist the relentless reminders of “the season” and try to avoid the persistent false advertising about the Dickensian ideal of good will and peace on earth. No matter how many thousands of these observations of a single day or groups of days we have, as a species, it seems we are no closer to reaching the more perfect union that the holidays encourage us to seek.

We know from whence it came: we are the primitives in our caves, winter and darkness biting at our frozen digits. It must have felt like the world was ending, the sun sneaking away to warm other creatures that we didn’t know existed over the horizon. We needed some sort of story to comfort us, a way of repeating the fear – of owning it – and keeping in mind that there is hope for the return of the light. It is a primal story, and it has been molded into many variations by different sects; but, even though these groups interpret their stories in their unique tellings, it is still about the light.

winter_solstice

This holiday is about the Winter Solstice, no matter how far afield the explanations stray. It’s funny how a natural phenomenon, so basic and so real and having such immense impact, can be interpreted in such fantastical ways. There is the physical-science explanation; the cosmic, spiritual connotations; the religious-story overlays; the familial-bonding imperative; and the commercialism spin – the Winter Solstice has become a growth industry. All these things exist otherwise, but for some reason the Winter Solstice has had to carry the load, becoming all things to all at the end of the calendar year, and being buried in there somewhere in the rubble.

I celebrate the Winter Solstice as a jumping-off point, an end to one period and the start of a new one, a cyclical reminder of nature and life, darkness and light, beginnings and endings. It is, for me, a time of reflection. A time to slow down and think about the year past and the year ahead. And even though we now know that the light will be returning, most assuredly, we must not take that for granted. Ever. It is the gift for the season and it costs nothing. Happy Winter Solstice to the entire Northern Hemisphere! That’s something to celebrate.

SolarEclipse

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Forest nor the Trees

Up north, the leaves have been off the trees for weeks, helped by a heaping handful of Sandy. But, down south a couple of hundred miles, the leaves were happily attached to their mother ships, showing no sign of giving up the host, until a few days ago, when, overnight – whoompf – bare limbs and the anguished cries of leaf-rakers who’d just filled bags of the stuff, thinking that they’d have some days’ respite before the next necessary round of gathering.

Back up north, where we have a new place to call home, trees surround the house and then roll on to the distance, so that, in spring and summer, there is no horizon, only the tops of massive pines and maples and ash, and all the bushy undergrowth. All of it – the tall, the short, the great variety of green, the hard and soft and prickly, the native and the invasive – creates a kind of cocoon, or a force creeping up on what humans have carved out from it, a sure but subtle approach, like Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane; indeed, behind every tree, within every dense brush, on every leaf-shrouded limb, creatures live, many of them, yet so few that we actually see or hear. And you can’t see neighbors’ houses, either – they’re there, somewhere, but behind and beyond, and out of mind. The foliage acts like a buffer, and a sound muffler, and it is, when you first start looking to live in these parts, exactly what your urban heart gladly surrenders to: unbridled green, like a warm mitten, granting you privacy, and ease, and basic things, even a kind of security, tenuous and fragile though it may be.

So, when the sky changes, and the wind blows cold, and the leaves start swirling down like confetti at a political convention, the newbie fears that all of nature that is good is gone, and that fall and winter will be times that are not to be loved but endured. What was green is brown and grey; one feels exposed, as if he’d walked out of a shower to discover that the walls had disappeared and an audience was enjoying the view from box seats.

Yet, that’s all wrong. This is an astounding time, perhaps even more so than when the force through the green fuse drives the flower. Thinking as I was thinking was simply getting it backwards: This is not a time when one is exposed, it is the time when the world is revealed. Where once there was a clump of green, now I see the close, middle and long-range depths of the world around me. That house I was trying to avoid seeing? It’s a lovely counterpoint to the natural world that now unfolds it to me. That ravine, that hillock – both seemed like soft cushions and springs, but are now clearly places of sharpness and mystery and secrets, not monochromatic but full of shadows and dappled areas of browns and tans and orange. Suddenly, I see something red, so red that it would seem impossible to not be a constant beacon, and yet I have no idea what that could be, because in my spring and summer days in this place it has never been visible to me. A short walk informs me that it is a canoe hanging on the side of a small shed – a canoe and a shed I didn’t know even existed.

And then – on going across the road to check the mailbox, I look back at my remarkably ungreened house, so open to the eye that it seems like a landmark, and I see, where just a few short weeks ago there was nothing but tree after tree … I see the mountains, less than a mile away, that look over (hence the name of one) and guard (hence the other) our little village. The real-estate brokers call this having “seasonal views,” and tout it as a selling point, or, rather, a buying opportunity. But it is not so crass – the surprise appearance of the rolling, sinuous and nearly feline mountains is nothing less than a gift, and a comeuppance to any who believe that this time of year is only about huddling and shelter, about losses and not gains.

Discovery is everywhere, in every place, in every direction, if only one moves with nature and time and does not cling to easy beauty, or fears sleep or death. Renewal is yet to come; epiphanies are here right now, for the taking.

 

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The Fickle Times: Transitions

Anyone who lives on earth experiences seasonal changes. Their extremes vary according to distances from the equator and/or the poles. If you are paying attention, things are in flux: there are temperature variations and differences in the amount of light/dark, there are changes in foliage, animal behavior, weather – all affecting activity and mood. Most of us are invigorated by spring, we just can’t help it; as if we are going through some kind of new growth as the rest of nature is.

The temperatures have been too warm and sunny too early for this time of the year and this causes nesting rituals among birds working in a kind of frenzy. They have been at it for well over a month: the chattering, the erratic flying to and fro, singing and fluttering. And then, just as quickly, one day the warmth halts, temperatures drop, cloud cover returns. The silence resumes, the silence of winter hasn’t fully let go. The quiet is palpable. Winds pick up, it is cold again and the birds have disappeared. Where do they go on such days?

It is these transitions of seasons and of weather that are special to me. The fickle times, when you think all has changed rather abruptly, but it is still in the process of changing. We are reminded of just a month or so ago, not so very long looking back, but how quickly we forget when we are warmed by the sun. Seduced, really.

It is that fluctuation, that instability and changeability, that creates a placeness. It isn’t found in the lingering seasons so much as in the fits and starts, these transitional periods, the combination of beginnings bumping up against endings. The contrast between the two and the intersection of “I am here” and “here I go,” just for the momentous joining of two opposing forces, a kind of cosmic tug-of-war.

The air has a chill, the sun is nowhere to be seen, there are cherry and apple blossoms shivering in the wind, tulips bend their thin stalks over toward the ground. It is yes and it is no. The natural forces are struggling to see who will win today, a game of strategy. I walk along blooming flower beds and I pull my coat close together to keep out the cold wind. Two days ago there was no coat. There is indecision all around. Already a robin’s eggs have fallen to the ground since there are not yet any dense leaves to hold the nests in the branches.

This contrast of pushing and pulling, warming and cooling, starting and stopping creates a physical presence from the air and light, a space where we can see ourselves caught in the flow, making us aware.

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