The Solstice was ten days ago, and already there is more light, I’m sure of it. My long, peaceful, dark mornings are getting shorter. It is time to start waking even earlier. How quickly things change, but how remarkably predictable change can be. My friend Emmy wrote me the day after Solstice and reminded me that there would be one more minute of daylight that day. She called that minute a little gift. We should take nothing for granted.
Although I don’t tend to be a big shopper or spender at Christmas or any other time, for that matter (I’d rather make and bake gifts), I have a tradition of sending Emmy an amaryllis on the Solstice. Although that is the shortest day of the year, the deepest cold is usually yet to come, and a big bright red exotic flower blooming on one’s window sill when the view outside is bleak and grey, I’m hoping, might be enough to remind us of the beauty all around, even though for so many it can often be harder to see it in winter. Don’t tell my boys that. They live for winter… but that’s another story.
For those of you for whom winter is long and cold, consider this quote that Emmy shared with me:
“In the depth of winter, I finally learnt that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
On the Winter Solstice, in my kitchen at 3:30 in the afternoon, the sun dropped behind the mountain to the south west of our ranch. That’s my “clockwork.” Like I said earlier, nature, with all her changing, can be remarkably predictable. We can set our clocks by the timing of the setting sun, varying upon season, now providing us with long, peaceful nights to catch up on baking, reading, telling stories, repairing horse tack, jotting down lists of ideas of things to work on when the snow clears…
I watched the icicles clinging to the roof in the last of the sun’s direct light for the day. Too cold to cause them to drip. But jewels, they were, hanging there, indifferent, so temporary and fleeting, but natural wonders in their slow, gentle formation. I did not see them being made, but there they were. How long will they last?
The blizzard left us around noon yesterday. The wind blew the storm clouds away, but remained to chill the dry air and smooth out the foot of new snow. I’d been “cooped up” all morning, except for feeding the horses at first light, so around 2:30, I strapped on the snowshoes and headed out. With each step, I sunk in about 8-10 inches. It would have been better to let the snow set for a day, but I was excited to be out in the fresh powder. Big gusts of wind would come and blow chunks of snow off the laden limbs of the spruce trees. In wind like this, the Aspen don’t hold any snow. It seems like the Aspen don’t get that lacy look except for early and late season storms when the air is warmer. But the temperature was about 13 degrees when I set out, and dropping. Despite the cold, I was working up a sweat making my way through the deep snow. With no one around, and I mean not even close to being around (in fact, I’m pretty sure the nearest people to me were my husband and son, down the mountain about 18 miles, plowing snow for our neighbor), I find an incredible peace in the solitude. A strength. A calm.
The silence, for me, is one of the most remarkable aspects about the deep winter here in the mountains. It is a sound most people do not quite understand, but I wish you could hear, could feel, at least once. In the summer, our guests appreciate the silence, and relatively speaking, it is indeed peaceful and quiet. But not silent. I still here the river, the creeks, the wind through the Aspen leaves, the birds and bugs… But in winter, the river and creeks are frozen, snowed over, muted. There are no leaves for the wind to play with, or birds (very few remain here for the winter) and bugs to share their chatter. This is silence. You can stand out on an open hillside and see the mountains wrapping around you in all directions, and hold your breath so you are making no noise of your own… and listen… It’s odd, because the silence often almost creates a noise, like when you plug your ears and hear what I guess is the rushing of your blood inside your head. There is something there, a movement, a rhythm, a pulse of life. But barely audible. Buried deep and warm beneath the blanket of snow. The heartbeat of the mountain has stilled. It is the time of hibernation. That, for me, is the beauty of Winter Solstice. I enjoy the quiet time, the time of reflection, the time of turning inside, turning within, slowing down… and looking forward to the next change that nature will share with us. So predictable!