Thursday, December 21, 2006

Climbing to the Light

The sun set on another season over Moose Hill tonight. I climbed the trail to Bluff Head to watch the sun disappear for the last time in the fall of 2006. Tomorrow, the sun begins its slow climb to the north. Winter began at 7:22 EST tonight.

Maybe I suffer from a wild case of SADD because the short days of December always put me in a strange state of mind. I don’t think of it as depression, really, because I’m not in a bad mood, but rather a low, quiet, somewhat melancholy state of mind. I tend to turn off the radio, which is a near-constant companion most of the year, and listen to music instead. This year, I seem to be in a particularly dreamy state of mind. Maybe it’s the light deficiency without the usual cold of December. I feel a little sheepish about saying we’ve been enjoying a very warm December after my “Cold Moon” post when it seemed like the door of winter had been slammed behind us, but since then, we’ve had mostly warm days in the 40’s and 50’s with few hard freezes.

With sunset so early (4:15), I didn’t have a lot of time, so I parked the car at the sanctuary parking lot and headed on foot for the bluffs. I took the Cistern Trail to the Bluff Head Loop. I wanted to run to make sure I would arrive at the rocky overlook with time to spare, but a cranky knee limited me to a fast walk. The sun was already out of sight below the rise in front of me, but an orange glow through the trees told me I would make it. When I broke out into the open of the rocks I found a young couple and I wondered if this was a solstice tradition of theirs. I wondered if the ancient ones came here to build bonfires to ward off the darkness of this longest night of the year.

I moved along the ledge to find a spot where I could be alone with the sun. I thought about the summer solstice when I ran up here with my son. I remember promising to myself to come back on the other side of the year, and I was glad I could keep my promise. I thought back to the warmth and sweat of the run that night and recalled how the call of the wood thrush signaled the change of the seasons. The woods were quiet on this night as the sun slipped below the horizon far south of where it did in June. Lacking the sarsen stones and heel stone of Stonehenge, I lined the setting sun with a broken-topped redcedar and the water tower at Gillette Stadium. Sometimes, we have to make do.

It might have been more appropriate to make this solstice observance tomorrow morning. I like to think of this as the time when we begin our annual climb to the light, when we start leaving the darkness behind and make the turn and begin our journey back to the days of light, warmth and life. I would like to mark this renewal with a view of the sunrise from these woods, but I don’t yet know of a good spot with views to the east.

Sunrise or sunset, this is a muted celebration here in New England. Thanks to the lag time in the cooling and heating of the Earth, our coldest days lay ahead. Every winter, I watch the temperature charts in the Globe and have a private celebration of my own when the average daily high temperature graph finally bottoms out and makes its first tick upward.

After the sun was out of sight below the horizon and the streaks of red and orange across the sky began to fade, I headed back into the woods. With the sun gone and no moon, the forest grew dark quickly. I was in no rush so I took the long way back along the Old Pasture Trail and had just enough light to see the path in front of me but not enough to peer into the woods around me. I tried to imagine how ancient people in the wilderness may have been terrified to be alone in the dark woods at night. These woods were quiet and peaceful. I pulled my hat off my ears, hoping to hear some sylvan night sounds, but the loudest noise was the roaring river of rubber and steel that is the highway to the north. I knew I wouldn’t meet any other people out here. I counted my blessings that while others were fighting through rush hour traffic, I could steal a few moments to be alone among the trees of Moose Hill. I paused in the darkness and looked up to see the stars of the first winter’s night twinkling through the oaks.


At 12:01 PM, Blogger robin andrea said...

I don't mind the cold temps, it's the gray skies that take their toll. I'll be glad when the return of the sun adds noticeable light to the end of the day. Our sun is setting at 4:20. When it hits 5:00, I'll be jubilant.


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