As Winter Solstice approaches, the horrific smoke from Butte County, California’s Camp fire – the most deadly and destructive in state history – has finally abated, as the fire is at last contained. Even here, over 150 miles away, the smoke and its accompanying symptoms (headaches, respiratory problems, post-traumatic stress flashbacks, to name some of the most serious) were nearly as bad as our 2017 North Bay wildfires. Thankfully, this fire is now over. But, as recovery here in Sonoma County continues, so it will take a long time for these newest sufferers and survivors. (These dedicated groups have helped many; and can use help in this season of giving.)
Winter and the solstice (or Yule) has traditionally been a time to go deep within – for the earth as well as its denizens, to heal and nourish for the next growing season. On this shortest day and longest night, we can also look to the lengthening days, and the coming of the light. I think of poet Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”:
I have been one acquainted with the night.I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.I have outwalked the furthest city light.
…I have stood still and stopped the sound of feetWhen far away an interrupted cryCame over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;And further still at an unearthly height,One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.I have been one acquainted with the night.
In 2018 came the unfathomable losses of my beloved aunt, and of one of my oldest, dearest friends. They both lived into very old age, filled with wisdom and humor and love that they gave to everyone in their orbits. These losses bring home so vividly the absences of my mother and father – who each died around this time of year.
In our garden at home, my sadness is echoed as we pull out the last tomatoes, basil, peppers – plants that thrive in the summer sun. But with the turning of the wheel of the year, there also comes hope for the new planting season; and joy in the lushness accompanying the first rains, the showy gorgeousness of Christmas cactus in bloom, the thrill of a sunset on the shortest day, and of a “Full Cold Moon” and meteor shower on the longest night.
In the end, I’m left with nothing but gratitude – for the natural world that never ceases to amaze, for family and friends who teach me so much, for this life and the love that fills it.