Solar Tracking

Solar Tracking
How low can you go? Snow and ice and cancelled school.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Winter Solstice




I woke up just at dawn on the Solstice this year and lay in bed with Lucy The Purr, waiting for the house to grow light enough to see in the kitchen; we don’t turn on lights or the radio on Solstice Day, so there is no point in hopping out of bed. The sky was a pale grey green. The house was silent. When it was light, I climbed out of bed and made oatmeal with dried apples and honey—all from within ten miles of home. After breakfast, I cleaned out the chicken coop and rabbit hutch, then harvested the last of the fall salad greens from the cold frame. All that is left is some slug-munched lettuce and a lot of vigorous weeds. The garden beds are dormant—not covered in snow, but leaves. I suppose I could coax some more greens out of the earth, but my energy shifts inward—literally and figuratively—when school begins. Dormant is good.

After lunch, we headed for Finley Wildlife Refuge for our traditional walk along the Mill Hill trail, tied in with over The Woodpecker Loop—about five miles, total, over all of the diverse ecologies of the refuge. The sun was out—a rare sight in December, but there were some clouds backed up on the hills near the refuge. Some years, we have been drenched on this walk. I clearly remember taking off my old rainpants once because they were cold and clinging to my legs. “I’d rather be wet!” I yelled when Mark (in well-treated pants) asked what I was doing. That year, water was streaming down the trail and puddling several inches deep in the low spots. This year, it was a gentle trickle down the middle of the path. It grew dark quickly under the trees and we could hear drips all around us, but it did not rain. When we broke out of the woods to the upper oak savannah near the end of the walk, the sun was shining on the snow covered Cascade foothills across the valley and we could see the Three Sisters as darker grey mounds against the far clouds.

We came home just before dark. As the light dimmed and I could no longer read, I fell asleep, furry beast of a cat on my lap, purring. Mark startled us all awake half an hour later, when the outside lights came on. It was time for the Solstice Night rituals—a fire with a piece of last year’s tree, which we grandly call a Yule Log, even though it’s more like a Yule Stick. Dinner from nearby foods—pumpkin, tomato, and pinto bean soup this year—and an apple cranberry pie. Planting paper whites which will bloom around Twelfth Night. Listing the highlights of the year and establishing goals for the next. Reading a section of A Christmas Carol aloud. We do all of this by candle light, quietly. The night moves more slowly without the radio, without being able to plunge into a book for several hours.

Before we went to bed, I slipped out to check on the chickens and close them in for the night. The moon was out, slipping in and out of a thin cloud cover. The backyard was bright. The sky dark. The cats followed me and chased each other around, thrilled to have a person out with them at night. George, our elderly chicken, talked in her sleep as I swung the door down and I could here the other two shifting softly on the perch. Everyone was fine. For a moment I stood, watching the moon, surrounded by the dormant gardens. The Earth paused, shifted, and moved, once again, towards the light of summer.

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