The Winter Solstice falls on a Tuesday this year, a weekday, a workday, a school day. I consider moving our celebration to the weekend, like other holidays on the modern calendar, “Solstice, Observed,” but decide in the end to keep with the rhythm of the earth. I plan a simplified picnic--pigs-in-the-blanket made with a package of Tofurkey Franks I find in the freezer and no-knead dough I mixed on Sunday, rather than the time-consuming and not-well-received cheese pasties I made last year.
Solstice morning starts out downright balmy, with a spring-like softness in the just-above-freezing air and big downy flakes of snow swirling on the breeze. As the day wears on, though, the wind takes on a bitter edge, the sky turns dismal gray and the snow turns to cold rain. I leave work early, but my errands take longer than planned. We arrive home in darkness, and C has already started a dinner of leftover soup and cornbread, negating the picnic.
The kids are tired and cranky and don’t want to go for a hike in the dark. I consider postponing until Thursday, when I have the day off, but today is the Solstice and it has finally stopped raining, so after eating bowls of hot soup we find dry snow pants and boots and gloves, we venture out into the darkness. By lantern light, we hang birdseed ornaments and an old red garland on the spruce tree out front and fill the bird feeders--our tribute to the wild creatures who share this piece of Earth we call home--and follow the trail through the woods to the river.
Without the benefit of snow to lend brightness and contrast to our path, we move by feel following the golden orb of lantern flame. The children move forward boldly, unafraid of darkness or stumbling. This trail we know like we know the path from our beds to the bathroom in the night. They start out bickering and fighting--who will be in front, who gets hit with his brother’s walking stick. “Shh,” I say. “I think I heard our owl.” I say, referring to the barred owl who made it’s home in the trees over our driveway for a day not long ago. But the air holds only the swirling of wind in the hemlocks, the thump of boots over fallen branches and tree roots and the gurgling of the black river flowing between ghostly bands of white ice along the bank.
We build a fire in our usual spot, using dry wood carried from the house and settle around to watch the flames. The boys poke at it with their walking sticks until we threaten to throw them (the sticks, not the boys) into the river. I wonder if we should throw wishes into the flame, but decide to keep Solstice a holiday that’s not about things or wants or wishes. Just us together in nature.