Winter Dark & Light
Night falls; we turn on lights and electronics, extending day in the dark of the year. And what a boon, though an oddment in seasonal and circadian rhythms. Do we sleep as well as our ancestors did? I wonder.
In light pollution cities especially, we haven't much awareness beyond the street corner. We miss stars wheeling and meteor showers, and the long contemplative nights of Northern Hemisphere winter.
Out walking on a recent chilly morning, snow lingering on north slopes and sides of conifers, I stopped to admire second year woody stalks of mullein (Verbascum thapsus) on a steep bank. And thought about light!
The flower stalks had elongated and bloomed bright yellow, a grandmother herb, the petals steeped in oil for earache.
Dipped in fat, they were burned as torches in the long ago when wolves howled and things went bump in the winter's night.
The worldwide and ancient feasts of light, may seem a little fatuous in our facsimile world of 24 hour light. We dust off plastic garlands, wreaths and trees, with little sense of the night hours increasing.
On an obliquely related note, I've never cared for ornamental dogs with pea-brains. I value the intelligence of working dogs; a Norwegian elkhound guarded my organic farm, livestock, plantings and me.
My attitude toward yip-yips settled into bedrock early on when my dad and I went looking for a real Christmas tree in ticky-tacky California.
I had been fortunate as a child to roam forests in a simpler time, and on our Christmas tree search, Father and I could not find a plain green tree! Went to several lots before we did.
Conifers were "flocked" that year: a faux-snow in cerise, chartreuse or purple!
I was already in agony when a woman drove up in a Cadillac, a toy poodle on her arm, the creature's tufties festively red-ribboned. To complete the ensemble, it sported a rhinestone collar. (I think it was rhinestone, but in la la land, who knows?)
She pushed to the front of the line and demanded a flocked tree, a special order: to be dyed charcoal-gray to match her poodle!
Daddy and I blinked, bought a pitiful un-flocked pine and fled...
Down home in the here and now, how do we honor the light's return, the return of spring and blossom, when most of us in the West have no clue about the dark?
In my months of tenting and no electric light, the sun set, and unless a campfire had been built, night fell with a thud. Birdsong meant dawn was near.
I live now in a small mountain community close to the land and to seasons, and light is a big deal. Families still remember lamp light here.
I met friends in the Old Town last night for wintry festivities, a rich-mix of silliness, firelight and camaraderie.
We watched a hoot of a magical outdoor fashion show: vintage and theater sort of gowns and one stunning ballerina who soared onto the models' runway doing Sugar Plum Fairy!
We sat on a bench covered with a long sheepskin, a bonfire close by.
They do see the stars wheel and the moon wax and wane.
Light and dark and the elders teach the young, those willing to learn, about land, honorable harvest to preserve bounty and their kiva-deep ancestral memory of earth cycles.