Winter Solstice 2019

Saturday, December 21, 2019, 8:19 p.m. is the Winter Solstice -the shortest day of the year, about 9 1/2 hours of light and the longest night. Today the year turns and tomorrow will bring more light. The following poem was written in Venice Beach, California on the Winter Solstice in 1993, a long way from the mountains of my childhood in the Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada, but not so far from these Kern County mountains where we expect snow again.

Winter Solstice

Such deep dark
so long sustained
should smell of balsam,
cedar, pine,
should have a canopy of icy stars,
of Northern lights,
shifting panes of white or green.

-A child under a buffalo robe
watching a sleigh runner
cut through blue
moon-shadowed snow
sees a rabbit track running off
into deep woods.-

Waking in the depth
of this longest night,
thirsty for sleep,I hear
the pounding surf,
an angry wordless shout
one floor below
and the reverberating slam
of a dumpster lid.
The sky at least is quiet:
a star hangs
above the flight path.

In my long sleep,
I have been following
that track back
into the woods
breathing spruce pitch
and resined pine,
lashed by boughs of evergreen,
until I have arrived at this
secret place
which only wild things know,
a place to shelter
while things end,
time unwinds,
the circle turns.

When we awaken,
shouting, homeless,
single and bereft,
we will go forth
into the growing light,
a light
we creatures of the dark
must yet endure.

This is the place,
now is the time
for the birth of the Child
in the cave of the heart.

Autumn Equinox: heaven’s wheel turns

earth at solstice

I know, I know, I come late to the equinox. Perhaps it’s the equinox’s fault. All hell broke loose when I should have been sitting down to ponder its significance. Fortunately, the sun positioned itself directly over the equator at right angles to Earth and showered its light equally on both hemispheres without my help. The Russian weather satellite Electro L also got on without me and took this picture of the earth as it can be seen only at the equinox. If I think about this hard enough, I may actually figure out why. (Usually part of it would be in shadow?) But you’re better off if I don’t try to explain that, given my ignorance.

This happened on Sunday, September 22, 2013 around 4:45 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Coincidentally, the moon had been full three days before and was particularly beautiful from my front porch.

There are four heavenly events that we still note: the vernal equinox around March 21st, the first day of spring when day and night are of equal length; the summer solstice around June 21st, Midsummer Night, the longest day of the year, and the first day of summer after which the days start to shorten; the autumnal equinox around September 21st, the first day of fall when darkness and light are once again equal; and the winter solstice around December 21st, the first day of winter when day begins to lengthen and night to grow shorter. These changes amount to only a minute or two a day, so that spring creeps northward at that daily rate.

The autumn equinox is the festival of Mabon, an early Cornish saint, according to some internet sources. That would be a pagan or Wiccan saint. Some accounts assert that she is female while others say he is male. They all see the festival as a celebration of the second harvest, the first harvest presumably was in July. But whether female or male, the deity is about to descend into the underworld, just as the energy of nature withdraws and disappears from sight in winter.

We feel this in our own bodies and we may even wonder out loud if we really can survive another winter. Chances of such complaining probably relate to how far north we live and how old we are. Me, old and here at 43.7 ° N. But I have observed that those living at 34° N and much younger also dread winter.

To cope with these fears, we have used narrative. Mabon, Persephone or Ianna goes into the underworld sometimes as the bride of Hades. The yearly King Must Die as Mary Renault recounted and Joseph Conrad alluded to in Heart of Darkness. The Green Man is sacrificed. The Straw Man is burned.

On October 31, the third harvest is celebrated, as Samhain, the Celtic New Year. So why do I get so irritated by the appearance of Hallowe’en costumes and God help us- Happy Hallowe’en cards- in stores in September? It’s just humanity acclimatizing to the death of the god, preparing to embrace the darkness by mocking it in scarey costumes and forays into the night in pursuit of sweet solace. November 1st, the Christian church designates as All Saints Day, a day to remember all the dead.

Our goal is to get through to the goddess’s or god’s rebirth, the emergence from the underworld or womb at the festival of light at winter solstice. We hang lights -much too early- and bring evergreens and holly, red with berries, into our houses to assure ourselves that eventually divine forces will bring back the energy of growth and expansion at the spring equinox.

Since I am almost as old as Mabon, I have a 75 year-old memory of one autumn equinox that I recount in Never Tell: recovered memories of a daughter of the Knights Templar. (

On September 21, 1934, I was a 2 year-old, seated in a horse drawn buggy between my mother and my grandmother on my way to the church hall in Hereford, Quebec on the Vermont border. There was going to be a chicken pie supper and dance. The pies under the seat were ready to be reheated in the hall stove. They smelled delicious. I never made it. “The wind took my breath away.” Don’t ask. I heard my mother say that. Evidently, the wind was very strong and I couldn’t breathe. So I found myself unceremoniously  dumped back home in the care of my great grandmother and mentally challenged cousin. They did their best to comfort me, setting up my little table with tea for my dolls and me, but I was sore aggrieved.

Later that evening, I woke up to an incredible hullabloo, a great wind hammering at the isolated hilltop farm house, my caregivers pushing furniture against the windows, which were bulging inward. My great grammy fell down. She wouldn’t get up. My cousin started screaming. When I went near her, she pushed me away and shouted at me. Things went downhill from there.

By the time my father arrived next day, having chopped his way back up hill from the church hall, I was truly traumatized, Grammy had suffered a stroke from which she never fully recovered and my clever little mind had decided to forget the whole thing. It never happened.

Exactly what never happened, I didn’t figure out for 60 years. It was the Great New England Hurricane which whaled up the eastern seaboard without warning. It killed 680 people, destroyed 9000 buildings as well as damns, bridges, roads, and harbours. It leveled whole forests. It did $20,000,000,000 damage in today’s terms. Only one of the great white pines that stood on the road down the hill was left. Although I didn’t remember the event, I loved that tree with inexplicable intensity.

So here we are just past the autumn equinox. The days grow short, but no hurricane is knocking at the door and fortunately, our stories light our way.

Summer Solstice

Today, June 21, 2013 is the Summer Solstice. Summer officially began at 1:03 EDT. It is the longest day of the year, here in the Northern Hemisphere. It was light at 5 a.m. where I live and although the sun will set just after 9 p.m., there will be light well after that. In Sweden it will never really get dark and in Edinburgh barely.

I like to hike up Solstice Canyon to the little waterfall on this day.

Solstice Cyn pho #2 But this year I have had to send delegates instead. They assure me the falls is still there.

close up solstice fallsIt  is just above the ruins of the Roberts house that fell victim to wildfire years ago in spite of its deep, natural pool.

What a great place to perform Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream: Titania, Oberon and the fairies in the rocky grotto, the workmen, Quince, Bottom, et al rehearsing their play on the colorful tiles that were the kitchen’s, the erstwhile lovers who have run away from Athens on the gravel path, Puck flitting between, bewitching the wrong people into love, Bottom saddled with an ass’s head proving irresistible to the exquisite Titania. But they have to be quick, so quick, because it is the shortest night and this is a fleeting dream.

Failing this, do something unexpected to celebrate the light.

Dance Class and Tai Chi

Tai chi-er

We are waiting for barbells. The resident teenager is reconciled to waiting. If the poor delivery guy/girl struggles through the gate with the 105 lb. package before Christmas so much the better, but meanwhile this health-nut proclaims there are many ways to exercise, a towel apparently comes in handy. I didn’t ask.

I packed fast for this trip. I brought only one pair of pjs. (Hello washing machine.) And I’m getting sick of these 2 outfits and the sweat pants. BUT, my exercise equipment did not get left behind. It is not heavy or forgettable. My tai chi is portable.

I ported it to a dance studio yesterday. Well, a masonic hall really, at least an ex-masonic hall, on Venice Blvd., where dance class is held. There is no instructor leading dancers through prescribed choreography, just a DJ with his computer hooked into what seem like the world’s most powerful speakers and a roomful of people moving however they please. Or lying on the floor as they please or lying in a pile on the floor as they please. So no one notices or cares about the mostly linear moves I’m making in the corner.

Loyal readers will say, “How Hollywood!” But no, I’m told that if I look it up on-line, I will find similar classes in my home town, Toronto. If your town is big enough, you might as well. And they will no doubt feature the same creatively dressed crowd -tights and tank- tops, sweats and baggy pants, floating silks of vivid colour, long skirts on guys and girls,- weaving out of their own imagination the beauty or anguish they feel.

They dance alone or with each other or in groups. One fellow danced with a bright red apple. A woman danced with a long white pillow with a heart embroidered on it. The sweatiest fellow in the room gave me a very looong, sweaty hug. It was déclassé  of me to notice any of this, although I carried away something of the sweaty guy’s essence.

My kind of tai chi – is never done to music. Master Moy, who brought the art of tai chi to the west in the early 70s, taught this silent technique so that we would learn to listen to our bodies. So it’s quite a shock to be practising, as I did yesterday, to tribal drums, as the “class” stomped through something like a solstice ritual.

Yet it is curiously liberating. I am so distracted by the whirling colour and the floor-shaking rhythm and even the occasional melody that I find my body moving unself-consciously. Suddenly I feel it accomplishing some refinement that I haven’t been able to get before. My  weight is well and truly in my feet. My belly soft, no longer trying to do the lifting. My hands, full of intention, but the push coming from the back foot. There is a real internal massage going on.

I had arrived here knotted up. Life will do that, as you know. I am away from my usual supports -osteopath, acupuncturist, massage therapist. Then I slipped on a rock, crossing a stream and added a spiral twist -and a good deal of temporary wetness- to the mix. (Incidentally, it was a beautiful fall, I’m told. I would expect no less after all that tai chi.) What to do? You guessed it. More tai chi. I tripled the number or jongs or standing exercises and came unwound. Now, of course, I have to keep that up for the interim or this 76 year-old body will revert or at least stiffen up.

There is usually someone in an electric wheelchair at dance class. One chap moves his chair in dancing circles with his chin. A woman dances with her upper body. Taoist Tai Chi has a sitting set as well as sitting jongs. I have done these while stricken with H1N1 flu when I would have otherwise just languished in bed for weeks.

So here’s the thing, “Dance, dance, wherever you may be.” (“I am the Lord of the dance, said he.) You don’t need any training for that. Or if you won’t dance, (Can’t make me!) take the training route so you never have to pack your exercise equipment. Learn tai chi. Look it up. Taoist Tai Chi is found in 25 countries. It could be in your town and if not, there is some other kind.

Or just get out your towel!

Merry Christmas!