"Tomorrow's the solstice," I say.
"Does that mean we get to burn something?" M says.
"Tomorrow's the first day of winter," I say later.
"Does that mean we get to burn something?" C says. Pyromania runs in families.
I planned to finish some Christmas projects, but inspiration struck and I spend most of the day writing—what I'm supposed to be doing with my days. E and Z get home and I mix up some frosting so they can ice the few remaining sugar cookies that have not been devoured by people who don't get the concept of Christmas cookies. I then hide them and the other types in the freezer. I pick up M from his bus stop so he doesn't have to walk home with his guitar. I walk out to the field to take a picture of the sunset. I make baked macaroni and cheese and put it in the oven just as C gets home and we all troop through the woods in the dark to the river. I realize how much more humane it is, not to always be rushing home from work at five or six at night and trying to squeeze a full life in around the margins.
We build a fire and bask in the relative warmth—34 degrees after several days below zero. It's a simple affair—no picnic, no thermos of hot chocolate, no script. Just family and light and warmth in the dark. We hear an owl make a sound—not a hoot, but an otherworldly gurgle and trill—and another answer it from across the river. We hear the heaving and cracking of ice and the faint trickle of water beneath the ice. We pile snow on the coals and head home to hot, bubbling macaroni and cheese.
The longest night, the shortest day, are done. The earth will begin its slow turn back toward heat and light. In the time before astronomy, it was not always assured that it would turn back, that winter wouldn't set in to stay. Even today it can sometimes feel that way. But rest assured, friends, light follows darkness. This one may be colder and darker and longer than we've experienced in a long while, but spring will come.