The Longest Night: Winter Solstice

5:04 AM this morning, December 21, was the Winter Solstice: the moment of the year when the Northern Hemisphere tilts farthest from the sun.

Each day since the Summer Solstice, the sun has set a little farther to the south, daylight has grown shorter, and nights have grown longer. On the twentieth of June, night lasted just a little over eight hours; robins began singing before 4 AM as dawn colors tinged the eastern sky. Now, the nights are more than fifteen hours long, and the sun sets in what would have been the middle of a June afternoon.

Long frozen months lie ahead. But there is literally a glimmer of hope: from this day forward, the light will grow longer and stronger. For thousands of years, all over the northern half of the world, people have celebrated this moment.

Yesterday, I went out around sunset to gather holiday trimmings for my cabin. I cut branches of alder and birch and collected handfuls of wispy, pale green lichens that grow on trees. As I walked along my shoreline, I followed the tracks of a red fox patrolling his territory. He had deposited urine and scat on a rock that rose above the snow. Foxes mate in the depth of winter so their kits will be born as the year turns to spring. I imagine that, through primal stirrings in his brain or hormones, he is already beginning to anticipate the arrival of breeding season.

I brought in plenty of wood to keep the fire in my stove burning warm and bright, then settled in for a cozy evening. I made a cobbler with blackberries I had picked in mid-August, on one of the last really hot days of summer. Then I set to work decorating my cabin. For a festive drink, I had saved some dandelion wine fermented from blossoms I picked on a golden day in late May.

I baked a biscuit-topped blackberry cobbler in my little propane oven.
I concocted a small tabletop “tree” from the branches I had cut.
I set a small pewter nativity scene on a bed of lichen. The lamp was a gift from a friend who has since passed away.
This year, the eve of the Winter Solstice was also the fourth Sunday of Advent in the Christian calendar. I lit four candles symbolizing hope, peace, joy, and love.

This morning at sunrise, I walked down to the shore to greet the new day. Mountains along my eastern horizon mean that I have to wait for my first glimpse of the sun, but the growing light was lovely nonetheless. As I watched, I listened to the voices of winter birds. Ravens croaked and cawed; a pileated woodpecker laughed.

The eastward view from my shoreline shortly after sunrise.
Wind-driven water has created ice sculptures on the rocks that line the shore.

I was the only human, but I did not feel alone. For the past few days, words penned by a friend have been running through my mind. He meant these words to describe us all. They seem suited to this day of solar transition:

“Do you ever feel separate or apart? You are a part, a glimmering, glittering, gleaming thread, part of the tapestry that we call the Cosmos, and the beauty of the Cosmos rests in your shining thread.”

[In a note given to me by James Malloy at the Rowe Center, in Rowe, Massachusetts, in 2018.]

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