Veiled Solstice

A short hike
on this shortest day
to perform a sunrise vigil.
The cold, furtive wind
haunts the forest
like a restless spirit
skittering across the crusted snow
searching for who knows what
in every nook and crevice
chases deer through the woodland
whitetails flashing their alarm
rattles the last plants standing
shattering fragile seed heads
a forced release
of intentions held too fast
and so the future is sown
on this Solstice morning.

Attaining the summit
the overlook is overcast
clouds cloud the view
and the wind has grown teeth.
Drawn here at Midsummer
Sagas unfurled
I communed with Hel of the underworld
and gathered her sacred herbs.
Now, at Midwinter,
Hel hath frozen over
and the sun rises
behind the veil.
Remembrance is made
that this is the day
we celebrate the dark.

Then the way back to warmth
crunching footsteps
upon the frozen path
raise a whirlwind of wingbeats
wild turkeys launch from the ground
clattering through
the bare-boned branches
and perch like enormous partridges
in a pair of leafless trees

And at the darkest hour
I shall burn
the sacred herbs of Summer
bathe in their fragrance
linger in the visions
that are revealed
from behind the veil.

Sunrise at 15 Degrees Below Zero

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The heart of the Sun beats as ardently as ever
though the Earth plays the coy coquette
averting her face from the intensity
of his smoldering gaze
lingering for months in a sidelong glance
as she slowly turns in her measured pace
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and we
perched upon her cold shoulder
of 45 degrees north
a halfway house of latitude
midway between equator and northern pole
the temperate zone, presumably
despite our intemperate extremes
alternating torrid and frigid
the tropics and the arctic
visit us in their seasons
but never, it seems, together
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the arctic now pays its respects
cold rushes in from northern reaches
storied land of the midnight sun
now the land of the midday stars
what a sequenced spectacle
to watch the stars wheel
endlessly across the velvet sky
hour after hour
night after unending night
as the earth pirouettes
beneath one’s feet
Ursa Major and Ursa Minor
chase each other’s tails
around and around the star of the north
polar bears, indeed
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but here
the wind rises with the Sun
and whale sounds erupt
from beneath the frozen lake
as the waters beat against the ice
breath condenses upon eyelashes
ice crystals dangle before ones eyes
illuminated by the sun in perfect orbs
like Christmas ornaments not yet put away
a sprig of Arbor Vitae lies upon the path
tree of life, messenger of life ever green

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This calls to mind one of my favorite things to say, but it’s so quaint I can only say it once a year, so here goes:
Glove-a-lees are lovely
but I’m smitten by mittens

Into the Dark of the Dark

The Earth has turned it’s face from the Sun, and the Moon has turned its face from us.  It is a rare convergence, the dark of the Year coinciding with the dark of the Moon, but in the Northern Hemisphere this is our experience as the Winter Solstice aligns with the New Moon.   The darkest night, made all the darker with no Moon to shine.

The dark of course, has two faces.  In the closing lines of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”, Dylan Thomas writes of himself as a young boy saying his prayers at the end of Christmas Day, “I said some words to the close and holy darkness.”   This may be my favorite line from the entire story.  It is such a moving sentiment.  So often I have loved the holy embrace of the dark, that mysterious void in which one feels intimately connected to the Divine Source, in which magick is conceived. But there is the other face of the dark, the free fall into the abyss, in which there is no embrace and all hope seems lost.

Some people live with chronic physical pain.  Some live with chronic emotional pain.  Some live with both.   My heart goes out to them all. While I count myself fortunate that I live with only the chronic emotional pain, it is still a hard truth.  My daily universe is punctuated with multiple black holes of hurt.

So it is another interesting convergence that in this season of dark speaking unto dark, I have experienced another deep wound. There are those moments that one feels utterly betrayed by the Universe, that just the simple desire to be loved is denied one. Those moments when not only the light of the Sun and the light of the Moon are gone, but even the star shine has been torn from the sky. Those moments when the void is devoid of mystery, and there is no heart in the darkness.  

Too many times in my life I have been brought to identify with the poignant message of  the song “For Vincent”, by Don McLean.  Paraphrasing its central line, “This world was never meant for one as gentle as you.” As gently as I seek to touch others, too often I have been roughly handled.  So many dark nights.

Though, bringing to mind words from my invocation of the Sacred Directions that I’ve shared before, North, the direction whose energy we are now immersed in, is the direction that challenges us – and through that challenge instills Faith:
~ Faith that the light will return after the dark.
~ Faith that warmth will return after the cold.
~ Faith that life will return after death.

One of the great mysteries of the cyclic nature of the phases of the Moon, of the seasons of the Year, of the flow of the Universe, is the simultaneity of endings and beginnings.  The moment that one cycle ends is the same moment that another cycle begins. The solstice is at once the point in our orbit that we face the furthest away from the light and the point at which we turn back to the light. The dark of the moon is the cusp between its waning and its waxing.

The interesting thing is that the physical cycle cannot be disrupted. The light simply will not return until the lowest point and utter darkness has been reached.  In some cases, the same may be said for the emotional cycle.  As has been said, “The only way past the pain is through the pain”.   So, if one finds oneself being sucked into the abyss of a black hole, sometimes, rather than finessing one’s way out of it, the best thing to do is plunge in, and allow it to shred you apart.  Eckhart Tolle said it best:

Suffering drives you deeper. The paradox is that suffering is caused by identification with form and erodes identification with form. A lot of it is caused by the ego, although eventually suffering destroys the ego–but not until you suffer consciously…. Suffering has a noble purpose: the evolution of consciousness and the burning up of the ego….

As long as you resist suffering, it is a slow process because the resistance creates more ego to burn up. When you accept suffering, however, there is an acceleration of that process which is brought about by the fact that you suffer consciously…. In the midst of conscious suffering there is already the transmutation. The fire of suffering becomes the light of consciousness.

Marilynne Robinson, in her novel “Gilead” explored this another way:  “To be blessed is to be broken, and to be broken is to be blessed.”

In this moment of the nadir of the Sun and the hiding of the Moon, in which we all are plunged into the dark of the dark, for some it is an encounter with the close and holy darkness, for some it is an encounter with the heartless abyss.  In either case, we are blessed with the opportunity to do some work at the deepest of levels, enabling us to bring renewed life into the new cycle.

Which ever darkness one is facing, as always, let us be gentle with experience of others, for, as Bob Dylan wrote, “You’ll never know the hurt I suffered, nor the pain I rise above, and I’ll never know the same about you.”

 

Between Charm and Magic

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Snowflakes, pouring down out of the boundless darkness of the night sky. Snowflakes, brilliant white in the headlights, accelerating willfully into the windshield. Big, silver dollar snowflakes, swirling into gentle collisions with each other, lacing together into strands of delicate snow garlands, that tumble down from the black void to the earth below.

Sitting in the backseat of the big station wagon, wedged between a bevy of sisters, I lean forward, over the front seat, over my younger brother’s head, leaning forward as though to meet the snowflakes in their headlong rush toward me.

My entire world is windshield and snow flying out of the darkness, framed by the bundled shoulders of my father and mother. Encased in a traveling snow globe, traversing the short distance between charm and magic.

Behind us, our tracks in the new fallen snow lead back to grandma and grandpa’s house, to rice pudding, cousins, aunts and uncles, back to the cozy, candle-lit charm of elder-family tradition.

Before us lies the untracked road to the magic of our glowing Christmas tree. From under its tinseled boughs spills a cascade of packages, awaiting our return.

Each Christmas Eve of my childhood, this same moment recurs. The same snowflakes, the same slow, gentle ride down the empty, white country road, the same suspension of all noise and haste. It is an enchanted moment, where contentment and anticipation merged into holy bliss.

The lingering contentment now sustains us as we ride, shoulders hunched in the frigid car, leaving behind us grandma’s warm house, with its dark aged furniture and pantry filled with foods she had canned herself, and old pictures upon the walls, a living shrine to family and heritage. We sat in ladder-backed chairs around the formal dining table, with china plates filled with rice pudding, white as snow, until buttered, cinnamoned, and brown-sugared into a luscious puddle of ocher goo, sipping heavy grape juice from cut glass goblets, partaking of the last supper from another era.

Anticipation builds as we approach our farmstead. We shall open the door of our simple home and spill into the quiet of the house, all eyes leaping to the tree – and the wonders beneath its blessing branches. There is a scramble to remove mittens, hats, coats, and boots; followed by a swarm into the living room, to form a ring of seven gaping children, taking in the gifts, wondering what each of the magnificent packages might contain.

But still, I am riding in the station wagon, gazing upon the holy white rain that falls from the heavens. Through some incantation of the nature sprites, this holiness has emerged from some high flung, amorphous mist, suspended there until that mystical, infinitesimal moment when out of it crystallizes the six-dimensional perfection of Snowflakes. And I am suspended there, in the car, in the heavens, in that holy moment, poised between charm and magic.

 

(I wrote this in 2003, inspired by the Dylan Thomas prose poem, A Child’s Christmas in Wales)

Snow artist has the Alps as his canvas

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“Simon Beck is inspired by any fresh blanket of snow, and produces his intricate masterpieces by jogging through deep powder on snowshoes.

His canvas is as vast as the Alps because it is the Alps, and his primary tools are a vivid imagination, a compass, and a pair of snowshoes.

Beck, who this week released a book titled “Simon Beck: Snow Art,” has been honing this unusual craft for about 10 years. Working mostly at night with a headlamp, he generally produces about 30 snow drawings a year.”

http://www.grindtv.com/outdoor/outposts/post/snow-artist-alps-canvas/

His work is so stunning.   Calls to mind other Environmental Art that naturally dissolves or disappears over time.  Love the ephemeral aspect of these artists’ creations; it’s so in alignment with the constant flux of nature.   The only constant is change.

Can’t wait for winter sports!