By Susan Jefts
The dry rustle of leaves
is what I remember,
and the lateness of the hour—
moon yet to appear. Something ending,
something about to begin.
Raven makes a different sound than owl,
makes a different sound than snow
falling not quite silently
over December woods—
a passion falling from darkness
as Earth turns imperceptibly toward her spring.
I wanted to use a solstice poem for the December column, but was having a hard time finding the right one, so I took the suggestion a couple of the column’s readers recently made that I use one of my own poems.
I wrote “Winter Solstice” several years ago after spending the afternoon at Merck Forest in Rupert, a 3,000-acre property of trails, ponds, mountains and a small farm. I remember being acutely aware of the difference between just thinking about the solstice and being immersed in nature as it is happening. The energies of nature can be subtle, but if we drop into them, I believe we can discern these subtleties and make meaning from them.
I still remember the day I wrote it — the snowy blue afternoon, the hollowed-out tree an owl flew from, the silence that seemed to come over the woods at one point, and the birds that sounded before and after. There was a sense of something building, pausing and then settling in. It may have been my imagination, but something felt different by day’s end, as if there had, indeed, been a shift.
But even while this shift toward spring begins, there is still much darkness and we are still, at least in this part of the world, steeped in long cold nights. Winter makes me think of wood, fire and interiors, including our own inner spaces — and so came the unexpected line in the poem “a passion falling from darkness.” One’s inner experiences, if mined, do carry a richness and a kind of passion. This can be especially true in autumn as each day becomes darker until that day in late December where we reach a subtle tipping point, and begin to fall out of that darkness, albeit very slowly, toward growing light.
I imagine people of ancient cultures knew the value of the dark and felt the guidance that could come out of honoring the earth and heavens this time of year. The ancient Egyptians built the Temple of Karnak to honor the winter solstice and the sun’s birth, which represented for them, all of creation. And, of course, there is Stonehenge in England and New Grange in Ireland, as well as Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, Chichen Itza on the Yucatan and many others whose axis are aligned for the solstice’s rising or setting sun, in some cases, casting brilliant light into the interior. It almost seems like they were trying to capture some of that light and its power, and hold onto it for a few moments before watching it disperse over the landscape.
These ancient cultures, and many others since then, believed such events were important to celebrate so their people would remain connected to the energies and rhythms of the cosmos, both for practical reasons of planting crops and for religious reasons. They knew and understood the significance of the science, but also valued and honored the mystical and mysterious aspects of these events.
They also saw the winter solstice and the slow return of light as a sign of nature’s rebirth and promise of renewed life. So it would make sense that the energy of this celestial event would be felt by each of them, and celebrated together under the sky. And it would make sense that we, thousands of years later, should also be able to feel this shift, this renewal of life and light that, despite everything, still abides. A light that still offers itself to us in all its brilliance. May we find our own ways to receive it, share it, and put it to highest use.
Susan Jefts is from Ripton and the Adirondacks of New York. Learn more about her work at her website: manyriverslifeguidance.com.