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.
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.
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.]