Ways of Looking at Winter: Solstice

Sunlight through pine trees

This might be our last day on earth and it is raining as though the clouds believe it. We spend most of the morning and the afternoon sitting around reading and watching the wind and rain outside.

Then just as suddenly, it’s gone, the sky starts to clear and we decide to make the most of the remaining light. Not that there is much light to be had. Not only is it the last day of the world but it is also the winter solstice. The shortest day of the year. Half way to the light. Half way through the dark.

I say the ‘w’ word and the dog is off my lap in a heartbeat and wagging her tail. We put on wellies and coats and head out the back door and through a small thicket to the meadow. Arching over the expanse of meadow is a mix of sunlight, blue sky, and racing, wind torn clouds.

The clouds are shades of white and grey and birds circle around in the half-light. The meadow is rain sodden and muddy and we squelch through the stirred up earth in our wellies. Something about the light is graceful. It is an end of the world light. It is solstice light. It is a lonely light and we are out here alone, except for the birds. The light makes the sky seem big and makes us feel small.

It seems odd that on the darkest day of the year I should be thinking about light, but today the brief light feels like a gift and it feels all the more significant for that.

I remember another day when the world was supposed to be ending. It had been predicted by Nostradamus. I was a child and it scared me, because I really believed it could happen and no one seemed to talk about it. I remember it was a warm Saturday and I was at a fair. I remember looking up at the blue sky and all the fair ground rides and feeling reassured that nothing bad could surely happen on a day like this.

The dog finds the right path through the trees and we enter the woods. The low sun shines through the tall pine trees, their trunks are completely lacking in branches for several feet so that the trees are thin limbed silhouettes against the white ball of light. The dog splashes through the soggy undergrowth of the forest, disappearing and then appearing again, racing towards us at full tilt.

Every now and then I look up and try to appreciate my surroundings, instead of looking at the brown pine needles and twisted roots of the forest floor. I always feel this need, to really appreciate my surroundings and I’m never quite sure how to do it. Sometimes it feels like life is lived at a slow pace and then you get out in the woods and realise you walk too fast, that the sun moves too fast across the sky, that there is no way to rewind, or run the frames at a slower pace. To truly see each second. Or maybe you appreciate by forgetting to appreciate.

The river is swollen nearly up to its banks and it is moving rapidly. Even the dog decides not to brave it and anyway she gets distracted by a tree stump that has been gnawed down by a beaver. We envy the world of scents she lives in. But then I smell the air and that after-rain smell reminds me of home. At least I have that.

Beaver gnawed tree trunk

As the light begins to fade quickly we walk back to the house and the Christmas tree with its bright coloured lights. I think, no wonder we cover our houses with lights at this time of year as we struggle through the dark days. Light is a strange thing, as soon as it’s gone, it is already getting light again. Turning around. Heading for a new year.

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