Here in the northern hemisphere, where I live in the prairies of central Canada, the days have been steadily darkening as the winter solstice approaches. On December 21, we will reach the longest night of the year (shortest day), and what our ancestors from many different cultures, knew as the birth of the sun, as we enter the light half of the year, each day getting incrementally lighter until we reach the summer solstice on June 21.
As I stand beneath the trees with the family of white tailed deer I commune with nearly every morning, the moon lingers high in the icy blue morning as the sun, on the opposite horizon, rises bright, but cool each morning, A colossal symbol of light and life. Its’ lack of warmth, a reminder of the winter phase of this great cosmic cycle we are all beholden too, and its immense importance for the survival of us all. We would be wise to remember.
The leaves have long gone from the trees and shrubs, and the birds migrated away, chasing the warmth of the southern sun. The chickadees remain, their curiosity, and sweet way they flit branch to branch in their communal way is very welcome on my morning wooded walks with my golden shadow, my dog Saga (saw-gaw). Everything has slowed in the natural world. The buzz and hustle of autumnal preparations for winter have come to their timely slumber. The deer, rabbits, squirrels and coyote’s that remain wakeful, move as quietly and lightly as the falling snow; leaving only their tracks to tell the tale of their passing. Many creatures are already tucked in for a long winter’s sleep under the heavy white blanket that the windy hands of December lay over them, both a tender and frosty kiss goodnight. The sap in the trees has become sluggish and nearly still, the great pulsing energy retracted from leaves and flowers at the tips of sun seeking branches and sent down into the roots, deep in the earthen womb, a humming ember that won’t spark the great rebirth until Spring.
“Plants and animals don’t fight the winter; they don’t pretend it’s not happening and attempt to carry on living the same lives that they lived in the summer. They prepare. They adapt. They perform extraordinary acts of metamorphosis to get them through. Winter is a time of withdrawing from the world, maximising scant resources, carrying out acts of brutal efficiency and vanishing from sight; but that’s where the transformation occurs. Winter is not the death of the life cycle, but its crucible.”
-Katherine May, Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times
The more time I spend in nature, the more it speaks, in its subtle mirroring way. It shows me myself, and with such gentleness and supportive embrace, it nudges me towards self reflection, cradling and soothing me as I come to terms with how out of sync I, and the world around me have become with our home, the earth, whom we owe our lives, our existence and dependence for future survival. How, on earth, did we so effectively separate ourselves in our minds eye from such a fundamental truth and reality? Because the separation is, in fact, just in our minds. We are as connected to nature as we’ve ever been, it’s our awareness of it that has been severed, as our attention has turned to less important things. Our comfort in illusions of security makes fools of us all.
Such a simple act, just a half hour walk per day, on a path in the woods of a park within a city, has awakened my awareness again, re-attached my severed roots in the most profound of ways. One doesn’t need to climb mountains, visit exotic locales, or hug trees to access this innate truth. The simple act of giving a small patch of nature your focussed attention as a habit, whether it be your garden, a green space in your city, the beach, or a riverside path, will alert you to the ways you’re out of sync with the natural order of things which have always been there.
This time of the year, which has come to be known to many of us as the holiday season, a time to ramp things up and squeeze an abundance of living into two weeks, in place of what most of our ancient ancestors had known as a time to slow down as nature does, turn inward and deepen like the life spark in the roots. To embrace the dark, get cozy in our dens with extra blankets, warm food and drink, candles and books. To snuggle in and slumber with our loved ones as our bear kin do. Instead, we have turned this natural rooted stage in the ever turning cycle of the year into the polar opposite. We are louder, busier, and sparklier, than ever! We turn the lights up and fill every moment with obligatory events, clinking glasses, and every stimulant known to humankind. We crank up the music, set off new year fireworks, and despite increasingly poor road conditions as the snow continues to fall and temperatures drop, we are out in our cars in droves, headlights blaring through the 5 pm dark, to max our credit cards on mass consumption. What an inversion from the natural instinct to conserve and withdraw. We do absolutely everything we can to resist the encroaching dark, fighting our own exhaustion, all while going full steam into group gatherings during cold and flu season. I can’t help but see the parallel behaviour in our seemingly deluded attempts to hold back aging, the winter solstice stage of our lives, if you will? As though we can deny our very biological animal nature, or even have the desire too. But that is a discussion for another time.
Don’t get me wrong, I like a raucous celebration, sparkles and sequins just as much as the next person, but it’s the obvious denial of our natural inclination and frankly, common sense, to sleep more when we’re tired and stay home as the blizzards and flu’s rage outside, that is worrisome. I have become more quiet and observant at this time of year as I’ve entered middle age. I hear the laments about work parties, obligatory events and gifts they feel they have to buy. The anxiety of so many people, myself included, about the shopping, cleaning, cooking, baking, decorating, card writing, expense, etc, etc, and how on earth we’ll get it all done. Expending all our reserves, when nature out our door is conserving theirs. The moment Samhain (Halloween) is over, and all the natural world in the norther hemisphere has wound down into the dark and cold season of the year, the human-made holiday frenzy begins. The irony not lost on me, that we typically take a holiday for a break, but this holiday season is anything but. We seem to know what it is we want, we just refuse to do, or rather, not do what is necessary.
You have to admit, that it’s counter intuitive to mimic the busyness of the life-booming summer solstice, at the opposite time of year, and as exhaustion and illness seem to be at an all time high just as winter gets started this year, I think we could really stand to take some cues from mother nature, and our ancestors who lived life by her cycles. As I sit here and admire my Yule tree, an evergreen symbol from my Celtic lineage reminding us that life continues quiet and unseen through the dark cold months, I begin to understand how much earth was honoured and mirrored by people of the past. Even though we’ve forgotten the meanings and symbolism of many of the traditions we continue to carry on today under different names, replacing them with more superficial and consumerist trimmings, re-learning and re-connecting with the origins of those traditions, along with regular time outside in nature, could plant our severed roots back into the earth. Now when I look at our tree, instead of hearing the popular, but rather shallow seeming sounds of “Rocking around the Christmas tree”, I hear a deeper, quieter voice reminding me that this is the season that the earth and her creatures conserve and sleep. And even though there is nothing growing outside, the green spark of life remains within our homes and will continue to flourish and thrive as long as that green remains in the needles of the evergreen and in our hearts, and its life force drives our actions. I also think of the traditional Yule log, being lit to warm hearth and home as the solstice rolls over a new year carrying the spark from the previous year forward. My ancient Slavic ancestors revered the sun, and lived their lives year round by its immense importance in their lives. To this day, the national flower of Ukraine is the sunflower, who’s head follows the sun in the sky and turns towards one another in the dark, a small reminder of a past preserved, and a way of being that we all can learn from. My Husband’s Icelandic heritage has a long standing tradition of exchanging books and chocolate at this time of year, honouring the natural inclination to stay in, embrace the cozy way of being, letting the body rest, and the mind and heart expand.
As we wind down 2022, and you feel the push and pull tug of war inside yourself, between the hustle and bustle pressure from the popular over-culture, and the intuitive and biological desire to turn inward and hibernate, choose to do at least one thing this year to honour the wild nature within you. Listen to your body and its complaints and stop railroading them with all the “have to’s”. Say “no” to something you are forcing yourself to do. Sit quietly in any natural place you have access too and tap into it. Remember that there are 365 days in a year. You don’t have to see, celebrate and shower all your friends, family and coworkers with all the love, time and attention over the next two weeks! You can see them, celebrate with them, give them gifts and love them well at any time of the year, and I encourage you to to do just that in 2023. In the meantime, take a walk in the woods, then curl up at home with hot cocoa, a blanket, a book or favourite music album, light a candle, and yes, eat those chocolates and watch the snow fall outside.
Happy Solstice everyone! May you feel the joy and familiarity that joining the natural pulse and rhythms of the season provides. May you perform extraordinary acts of metamorphoses this winter. May you find peace, good health, an abundance of love, and of course, an ample serving of wonder.
STYLING BY: Patron of Dreams (Tara Cole-McCaffrey)
DRESS: Patron of Dreams Vintage
WILD WOOL COLLAR: Custom made for Patron of Dreams by Sonia Bicker
PHOTOGRAPHY: Gregory Chomichuk and Patron of Dreams, Editing by Patron of Dreams (Tara Cole-McCaffrey)