Wednesday, December 20, 2017

MidWinter's Eve? #phenology


Thanks to Robert Macfarlane @RobertGMacfarlane, Julia Bird @juliamarybird, the author Susan Cooper, and my local library, we're now in the midst of reading The Dark Is Rising. There's an online Twitter book club, check #TheDarkIsReading. It was through this book that we first became aware of an anomaly.

Today is referred to as "MidWinter's Eve." Tomorrow is the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It is beyond our comprehension, but not our speculative powers, to grasp how MidWinter and the First Day of Winter can occur on the same day, but it must be so. Wikipedia notes it in the first sentence of it's coverage. If we can't agree on seasons, phenology becomes even more challenging.

If we speculate that there was a time when only two seasons, Summer (growing) and Winter (non-growing) were observed, then Winter Solstice is roughly mid-way between the beginning of October and the end of March. It is quite confusing though when one stops to think about it.

The book, on the other hand, is a delight, although somewhat eerie and scary, but no more so than what's been happening in Washington, D.C. recently. We'll wait until we've finished this volume before we decide whether to add the other four books in the series to our reading list. Meanwhile, we wish someone would hang lots of holly around the halls of Congress to protect us from the Dark Forces.

holly, to protect us from the Dark Forces rising at this time of year
holly, to protect us from the Dark Forces rising at this time of year
Photo by J. Harrington

For now, we wish all of you a Happy Solstice, Happy Juul, Saturnalia, or whatever feast you choose to celebrate as the year reaches it's turning from shortening days to lengthening ones. Renewal comes again.

Toward the Winter Solstice

Although the roof is just a story high,
It dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
And cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
A dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
Enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
The cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
Will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
And call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
Of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
We all are conscious of the time of year;
We all enjoy its colorful displays
And keep some festival that mitigates
The dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
But UPS vans now like magi make
Their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
Are gaily resurrected in their wake;   
The desert lifts a full moon from the east
And issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
And valets at chic restaurants will soon
Be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
The fan palms scattered all across town stand
More calmly prominent, and this place seems
A vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
The tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
Of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
And ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
Occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
It’s comforting to look up from this roof
And feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
To recollect that in antiquity
The winter solstice fell in Capricorn
And that, in the Orion Nebula,
From swirling gas, new stars are being born.


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