Four seasons fill the measure of the year;
There are four seasons in the mind of man.
I am one of the estimated 6 per cent of the US population who experiences seasonality with great sensitivity. Like many animals, my body responds to the shorter daylight hours by slowing down. I find it difficult to function according to clock and calendar starting in September. By the time of the winter solstice I crave ten or eleven hours of sleep every night. There are other challenges with appetite and motivation. I may go for days without feeling really awake or alert.
So I felt like celebrating yesterday, because the corner of winter is being turned. It was a bright sunny day, and I watched the light move along the southwest side of the house. It barely cleared Cle Elum Ridge before it sank again. But for awhile, there was a puddle of warm light melting on the floor as it entered through the window. Cats notice that sort of thing and bask in it. I never did this before, but I got candles for the occasion. Coming in from the night–a sky prickled with stars–to the dark house. I lit one candle in the center, and welcomed back the light. Then I lit twelve more, one for each month, and said a few words acknowledging the turning of the wheel of the year. In my imagination, I see and feel the planet pausing for a cosmic moment. I see the schoolbook drawing of the Earth’s axis, the center on which it rotates. It rests before tipping toward spring. So for a week, the days are all about the same length. By the first of January the daylight will linger a minute or two longer than the day before.
Today the sun rose at 7:48 and set at 4:16. I took a break from my holiday baking binge to spend some time outdoors. Only a couple hours from sunset, the sky was as delicate as the inside of a seashell. It was colder than I expected, and I reached into my pack for an extra layer. A new thing for me is cold fingers. I’ve always had excellent circulation, but now fingertips get painfully cold. Even brisk exercise doesn’t get the blood flowing to them. I wonder if the years of chainsawing and holding tools have damaged some nerves. Will have to see how this situation unfolds.
My body remembers skiing. It’s easy to let the mind drift off while I’m sliding, but there is usually some little thing that brings my attention back to the snow. A rough spot in the trail, a downhill run, the sound of the fishscale pattern on the bottoms of the skis whining on ice, the sproing of a pole being pulled out of dry packed snow…I notice the trees with snow on them, and my eyes follow their familiar shapes and textures. Doug-fir, grand fir, hemlock, cedar. It’s quiet. No bird sounds, not even ravens. Perhaps a trickle of water in a side draw, or the shush of the river. But mostly it’s quiet except for the skis.
Back at the truck I sit for awhile, watching the light on Davis Peak. The sky is pale, clear, and empty. Not lonesome empty, but clean empty.
That’s how winter feels. As I sat with lit candles in my dark house last night, I reflected on the pause, the gap, the empty. That brief space where one thing has gone but the next thing has not entered…and I wondered what must die so that something new can be born? What will start in the dark and come out into the light?
My solstice act of faith was to take a hyacinth bulb out of the refrigerator and “plant” it in a vase of water. This goes on a sunny windowsill, and I have no doubt that I will soon see a nub of green in the dry papery folds on top.
We have tipped toward the light.