Monday, December 21, 2009

IS THAT WINTER I SEE?

Today marks the winter solstice.
According to the almanac, winter will officially arrive hereabouts at 12:47 p.m. Not that there'll be much to see…not even from the vantage point of a high perch atop one of the big sycamore trees on the island across the river from the cottage. At least the redtail hawk I saw sitting in such a view-commanding seat didn't appear impressed.
Of course, if this were a bright morning about 5,000 years ago, and you were hunkered deep in that Ireland passage tomb we now call Newgrange, you'd probably have been nearly beside yourself with excitement the moment that single beam of solstice sunlight suddenly illuminated the floor of the structure's innermost recesses. What's more, the person huddled beside you, loudly cheering, singing, praying, or simply mumbling might well have been one of my distant kin—especially if he happened to be a particularly fine and handsome example of a warrior-priest.
Today, here on the riverbank, there was no shaft of sunlight poking dramatically through the blanket of clouds…no wild cries of glee from the neighbors. And I can't say I hold out much hope for a dance around a bonfire later on. Solstice magic is in rather short supply.
But the implications of this invisible astronomical milestone remain as valid as ever: from this point onward, for the next six months, light will be on the increase rather than the decline; gain instead of loss. While the brunt of the cold weather waits ahead, and winter as a season has just begun—still, it's all carrying us toward light and warmth and spring. Winter's passing solstice begins setting the stage for April's lovely pastel wildflowers which will spatter the hillsides and greening glades, the singing birds who've returned all decked out in their bright attire, and the wily smallmouth bass who'll feed hungrily in the sparkling riffles of my beloved river.
There's indeed a promise in the passing solstice, a message of things to come.
The old ones knew this. It gave them the faith to face what lay ahead, the courage and strength to endure the winter cold and somehow manage their doubtless dwindling supply of food. You can often hang on if you know things will get better. When survival is at stake, hope is not enough; a sign of some sort is necessary…and the solstice was—and is—that sign.

20 comments:

giggles said...

Gives one some faith, no??

Rowan said...

I enjoyed reading this post Scribe, you have a good insight into the way our ancestors must have thought and felt and you are quite right that knowing that things will eventually get better can give you the extra strength of mind to hang on in there.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Giggles…

Indeed. Hope is merely passive desire, a word of want lacking backbone; faith, by comparison, contains the active strength of directional belief.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

I can imagine one of the ancients on a windswept ledge in front of his recess cave or similar shelter. He has placed a cairn of stone so that the sun casts a shadow upon the ledge. At the peak of each day, he scratches a mark upon the rock. The marks plainly reveal how the sun has been retreating for many, many days…and with each revelation, his heart grows ever more fearful.

Days are shorter, nights colder. Warmth is harder than ever to come by. The blood begins to congeal. Will the retreating sun disappear entirely and be lost forever?

Then…in the midst of the cold, the marks in the stone show the sun has slowed in it's retreat…oh, look, it pauses!…and now the sun holds in place a day or two…and then, wonderfully, that life-giving sun begins inching its way back!.

All is not lost. The wind can still cut with a sharp edge, but the sun is returning! Let the wolves howl. The marks tell the tale!

Can you imagine the relief? The joy? Certain death has now been transformed into possible life—and all this man of old has to do is hold on long enough.

What a wondrous renewal of strength this news, this realization, must have given to our fellow's heart all those many centuries ago! And yet, today, the solstice is just an odd word, quaint, meaningless…nothing surely to track and mark and find in its reality faith for the road ahead.

Wanda said...

Your reply to Rowan's comment is as informative as your posts, it could be another post.
Even though we strive to be appreciative of the small impotant things in life, we still take much in the world for granted. We are some what spoiled.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Wanda…

I mean this in the nicest sort of way—but I do believe it to be the truth…we as a people, a nation, and as individuals, are very spoiled. We have been given so much and we appreciate so little. Rich or poor, we stand miles above those who came before in terms of what we have—and yet all that we have was bought with sweat and blood, courage and fear, endless sacrifice and death. We would know love, but we don't want to acknowledge indebtedness, not even by learning and understanding our past.

How can we ever value the journey, or look forward to the destination, if we've forgotten and ignored the road?

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ-

I love how you explained the Winter solstice. I prefer the shorter days and longer nights. And I also clearly understand how it represents 'hope', a tangible to see and hang on to and that is good. And I love your definition of 'faith' in your reply to Giggles - "faith contains the active strength of directional belief". Wow! :-)

Fascinating post filled with wisdom, truth, faith and hope.

Love Gail
peace......

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

Thank you, as always. And yup, in my lexicon, "hope" just sort of sits there like a bump on a log…while "faith" gets up and gets to moving.

There's probably enough bear in me that winter stirs it up—at least I do love the long nights and shorter days.

Bernie said...

Oh yes we will now begin our journey toward longer days....seriously though I want to enjoy this beautiful winter wonderland first....your words today were beautiful Grizz...Hugs

Jain said...

With a pup in the house of just under a year, I wonder what he thinks of these dark, cold days. He frolicked in his first snow this weekend, but there’s not much time for balls and sticks after a long work day, and I wonder if he’s noticed how short the days have grown since he came to live with us. Then I think about how he’ll wallow in summer play, walks in the woods, and swims in the pond.

Me, I intend to enjoy some harriers and juncos, windblown drifts and magical ice crystals, layers of sweaters and fleece, steaming soups and homemade bread, and subtle tones of pink and blue and gold on snow -- before I start my longing for tender wildflowers and birds in breeding attire.

Merry Solstice to you and yours!

KGMom said...

Scribe--interesting that you pictured the ancients watching for celestial signs--sunlight striking across the floor.
I frequently do something similar--try to imagine how the world would have looked to people for whom the mysteries of the universe were unrevealed. How did they see the sky, the stars, the moon, the sun? For one thing, they were far more observant than we are--knowing the position of stars, and movement of planets simply by repeated observation. We take for granted what they through years of watching came to know.
And, I do wonder how they greeted the longest night, the return of spring, the passing of the seasons.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

Me, too…I also want to savor winter, even as we climb the hill back to spring..

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

That you dog will have his fun, whether the days are long or short. He'll love the snow—as do all dogs, I think—and he'll love basking before the fire, warming first one side then the other. And he'll love those winter walks beneath starry skies when the wind moans and trees creak, where foxes yip in the darkness and owls hoot their lonesome questions, and those paws he's still trying to grow into keep slipping and sliding and crunching through snow crust.

Spring will come soon enough. But far better to come after winter—to be earned and appreciated.

Happy Solstice Day to you, too.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

Those old watchers of winter skies knew so much more than we can ever imagine when they looked up. I expect they knew exactly when the sun "stopped" and then began returning north. What they didn't know was the why. And this must have caused a great deal of fear…because they did realize the relationship between light and life. Seasons were an integral part of their lives. They understood the natural cycle and gloried in its definitive points. People who live close to the earth, in tune with the natural world, have always done so. There is no mystery there—but it would have been something to have sat around a winter fire with, say, some old Druids and been able to talk of what they knew. I have often imagine such scenarios, camped at the mouth of a recess cave in the southeastern-Ohio hill country, where the Adenas and Hopewells and Shawnee would have stayed.

Jayne said...

A lovely post...
I've been enjoying your Advent Reflections, though not commenting often. It's that sort of quiet time for me. :c)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

I understand. Comment whenever you wish…or simply enjoy.

Raph G. Neckmann said...

Lovely energizing words, Grizzled! I looked up Newgrange on the Interneck on the 21st - the little video about it was awe-inspiring!

Solstice greetings to you from Camelopardalis! I've been too busy to blog recently, so just in case I'm not able to visit again before Christmas Day, here's wishing you a wonderful Christmas, Grizzled, and thank you for your bloggy friendship through the year!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Raph…

Quite a place, Newgrange—though we know so little about it, really. On the other hand, I do like that there are mysteries we'll never solve…

May you and yours—kith and kin both tall and taller—have a wonderful Christmas, filled with joy and laughter and loads of love. Know too, your friendship and support has been much appreciated at all times here on the riverbank. (BTW, did you see Countdown 24?)

Sydney said...

A beautiful, thoughtful post on Solstice. I have been researching it lately. Having become an ordained Interfaith minister (serving all faiths and those of no faith and everything inbetween) in June after 3 years of seminary, I realized that I knew little about how Solstice was honored and made a mental note to do some research... and here is this to start me off! Thank you!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Sydney…

Hey, if I can help you in your research, just let me know. (Just drop me an email to the address on the blog.) I've been writing about and researching the solstices for years and have reams of notes and a number of books. One good book you might want to check out would be "The Winter Solstice: The Sacred Traditions of Christmas" by John Matthews. There are lots of books on Midsummer customs, too.

Anyway, glad you found this piece even mildly helpful.