- Bedecked tree in deep woods on the Nature Conservancy’s Upland Farms. Winter Solstice the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, appropriate time for a new year via the Romans, Druids, Christianity, and Western European colonialism. In about a week it will be “2016 CE,” a world standard ferociously enforced by computers.
- We are one, at least in aging digitally together. Not long ago, hardly anyone knew how old they were, or when their birth date might be. If you survived childhood, you became an adult. If surviving thirty or so years of adulthood you became an ancient. Years were measured in passage of the season and collection of taxes, and otherwise left everyone unaffected. Now, we calculate our calendar age to the microsecond, tie our “secret equivalent age” to biometrics, and have a grand vision of what must be done in each annual cycle. Sure, we each have our own birthdays, but Earth, as always, provides the real downbeat.
- Last winter this day freezing and snow, this winter nearly sixty and fog. The land does not know date nor season nor weather. The land did not know trilobites nor dinosaurs nor people. Most inhabitants of the land just recognize it is daytime and survive until darkness. Only humans compare one year to another.
- Ancient Greeks _ and most other religions _ assigned no birthdate to their gods because that would be certain blasphemy. Prophets, on the other hand, are often dated by year _ which is difficult because true prophets are often not recognized until they are well along in years, and even in literate cultures born vaguely “in the fifth year of the reign of good king Maniac.” Assigning a specific birthday is impossible, and generally evolves by convenient convention. Yet, here we are, celebrating one “birthday” after another, and happy for doing so.
“Let’s see now,” she returns to the calendar. “What about Wednesday, after he’s done work?”
- Warm fog and showers unable to satisfy eccentric cultural longing for white coating on the ground. ‘Tis the season of extravagant expectations _ family, love, bonuses, gifts, myths, anything at all. Now that all other needs and whims are more or less instantly satisfied, what remains are holidays on steroids.
- I’ll spare you the “I was happy with a yo-yo” stories; we were not deprived, but major kid stuff was reserved for Christmas,
and there was a lot less of it. Our parents did not treat a car or new appliance as a gift _ those were major expenses that involved planning and penny-pinching. I see people infinitely more goods, but none happier than we were back in “the good old days.”
- The natural cycle for life on the surface is the sun. Hawks and squirrels roam the day, Owls and raccoons the night. We are advised of our natural circadian rhythm, and most of us are forcibly reminded to sleep periodically each twenty four hours. Day and night are probably most of what many animals are aware of.
- On the other hand, bacteria, which own the earth. presumably don’t much care if there is light or not. Fish and shellfish are probably far more affected by tides. Inhabitants of the deep sea never notice sunlight at all. An insect cycle may be complete in less than an afternoon, the prototypical active time of a mayfly.
- Humans have invented measurement. Days pass into numbers and the moon waxes and wanes and the seasons warm and chill down or dry up and rain. We plop them into proper places on a calendar, find how close we are to solstices or arbitrary year end. We annotate our own place in these records, when we have precisely checked off another three hundred sixty five.
- Even more intriguing, people have fashioned metaphors. One of the most complex, at least in European-influenced cultures, is that a year is like our lives. Like the year we are born helpless and nearly dormant, then thrust and blossom into grand and beautiful virility, then slowly dry and finally disappear. A folklore version of Ontology recapitulating Philology.
- Yet all that is false. Years don’t exist, except in our minds. Our lives and growth and achievements are not at all at the same pace or with the same attributes as the environments of the northern hemisphere. We know that our consciousness exists in the moment, but we always seek some deeper pattern.
- After the excitement of a wonderful holiday, the slight let-down and then a final remaining glow. After much work and worry, the house is all decorated, the lights cheering the foggy air, the presents exchanged and (mostly) properly appreciated. Then everyone goes home, another year older, another set of memories layered on the old ones.
- So one of our religions has had yet another birthday, the sun has passed solstice, soon the calendars will change to recognize the facts, and we all feel, somehow, a little more aged than we did a few weeks ago. Even the mild weather has been unable to hide that winter is ready to swoop in at any moment. I’m not a person who ever hated the holidays, but I did get more keyed up in the past than I do now. Much to be grateful for, of course, but that has fortunately been true every day of the last year for me.