- The Western European end-of-year holidays existed for a reason. Darker, longer nights, and a need to be fortified by hope against coming winter. But also the traditional times of warfare were suspended _ the Mediterranean too stormy to plan campaigns, deep cold and snow in northern Europe, shorter days, the need for manpower to reequip and in a few months for most of the men in armies to help plant crops. Until recently, most such activity left winter itself as a relatively quiet and inactive period, which could truly be celebrated by the festival of returning sun. Their year was in some ways as regulated by winter solstice as the ancient Egyptians were by the flooding of the Nile.
- On the other hand, for much of the Northern Hemisphere, winter was a grim time. You did not need imaginary creatures to be worried about being devoured by wolves, freezing to death, or facing certain starvation. And for most, sunset marked the effective end of each day, with little left to do.
- So this week, I do not celebrate our modern Christmas and other orgies of consumption, which are now gigantic commercial affairs or an overblown religious observances. I consider Darkling Days, Darkling Moods, affecting us far more certainly with the depression of missing daylight than the phases of the moon. I rejoice in having food and electricity and transportation and warmth and machines that let us ignore most old terrors, even as we invent new ones to take their place.
- The woods are cold and bare, fields fallow, but nature never quiet. People add their constant noises even in the hush following snowfall, but birds still sing, the wind whispers, the waves break on shore. They are as still as we probably should be, but we have too much to do, which, all in all, is probably a good thing, even in those dreary months to come.
- Even at solstice, midday sun at Huntington’s latitude is blinding to stare at, and painfully glaring on snow or ice. Plenty of sunshine to determine color of remaining leaves and berries. Enough energy to slow the seepage of heat until spring. Romantic or Gothic poets spin darkling tales of how the solar disk transforms into a wan ghost of former glory, but they are imagining rather than observing.
- If our descendants colonize Mars, their sun will truly become a pale darkling brightness. I do not think those colonists _ given current advances in genetic engineering _ will be like you are me. All the more reason for us to defend our planet ever more militantly and jealously, for it is the only home that we and those like us will ever inhabit or enjoy.
- Darkest just before dawn only works (as a tautology) if dawn is defined as exact moment night becomes brighter.
- Sunrise remains hours away.
- For some people, Druids are a glazed fantasy of bearded wise blue-woad priests who understood ancient mysteries, and of wiccan initiates who danced natural rites. Mistletoe. Yule logs. Living at one with Mother Earth. It’s just as well those dreamers won’t accept the actual bloody Neolithic world, as revealed by archaeology.
- Similarly others have their own dreamy fantasies of Santa, Victorian courts, Medieval saints, rollicking knights, and _ of course _ all the fables, miracles, and philosophies of the ancient world. “People just like us” we are told, “who understood the true underlying cosmic and metaphysical mysteries.” Contradictions apparently just add to the glamor.
- We must have fantasies to survive. “This will be the best Christmas ever;” “through the years we all will be together;” “everything will work out;” “live laugh and be happy;” “things will be better someday;” and, of course, must cherish our inner certainty that moments will continue forever, while life around and in us ages on. What is the alternative so such hope?
- Logic laughs at darkling nightmares, and the dreams we construct to combat them. Logic is hardly all _nor even the most important portion _ of mental balance.
- Beaches at winter have an empty feel, which because of the holidays and lack of snow cover has not yet quite set in. It takes some work to find open expanses clear of people and dogs. Generally, however, the sand is uncluttered, hardly marked with footprints. Little life is evident along the shoreline, where murky summer waters have cleared and in crystalline depths rounded pebbles glow. Even the wind feels empty and clean, containing no exhausts from pleasure boats nor perfumes and pollen from trees and flowers.
- I dress warm and enjoy a place away from everything and everyone. Even normal annoying sounds are drowned out by the rush of the wind, cry of gulls, and especially breaking wavelets. In this crowded area, nothing can be called loneliness, but patches of solitude can hover briefly. For the next two months, trailing dropping temperatures will render such locales more and more inhospitable, more inaccessible to normal access. Yet at winter solstice, touches of the previous season linger on, and sometimes pleasant memories of warm times past are easily recalled.
Large crowds of flocking geese _ not the usual overwintering kind _ have arrived to cover the bay, ignoring the massed swans who dislike the competition for fresh water. A few ducks, but not so many as to be noticeably different from other times of year.
One of the swooping seagulls cries out to a tiny white-headed duck, “Hey, Bufflehead Bob, see you’re finally back! How did the North treat you this past year?”
“Well enough, well enough. Boy, that cove over there gets more and more crowded each time I arrive. Doesn’t anyone ever leave any more?”
“Nah, most of them have gotten too fat and lazy. Easy pickin’s the last few seasons. If we have a hard January with the harbor frozen over and icicles forming on beaks we’ll see things thin down pretty quickly.”
“Yeah, true, but that affects us to, so no evil wishes from me.”
“Where do you go, anyway, Bob? Is it just like here.”
“Not hardly. Lots of room, lots of quiet, lots of trees and open marsh. It’s work to pack and work to go but Fran and I love it up there.”
“In the right season, right?”
“Oh, yeah, in the right season. Well, got to get busy diving. See you around.”
Winter solstice sun sets
From our porch
Right down neighbor’s chimney