Monday, 10 December 2012

Making the Most of Darker Days

Winter sunset - blurring the boundaries between light and dark 
We wake in the dark here now, and we come home in the dark. The light creeps in slowly from the east from about 7.30am - not fully bright until after 8am - at which the time the car engine has been started and the slow winter ritual of teasing ice off car windows and mirrors begins. This morning-ritual ice-melting phase is pushed along with generous helpings of warm water from the Holly Cottage kitchen tap - steam rising as melting ice on car windows meets warm water meets cold air of December morning. And we shiver as we wait in the cold car for the windows to clear. Holly sits in the boot of the jeep wondering why there is no movement - c'mon let's go to the bog! - and I try to console myself in the knowledge that in 10mins we will at least have started the journey to work. However long it may take. It's the same story all the way up and down the street. Busy working class folk trying to get there on time, children wishing the snow would fall so school might be cancelled, and then me and the Holly dog sitting, waiting, car engine ticking over...waiting, waiting....watching intricate patterns of melting ice disappear as the sun too begins to rise over the roof tops of midlands Ireland.  

The cars crawl along the roads these mornings, ours crawls too. Too many skids and near misses, as well as several hits have taught me to be patient and respect the lethal power of ice and cold. And really - what can't wait for the cold claw of nature to thaw and release? Sure - there's the antsy boss or the cranky teacher, but you know what? There are forces stronger than them that must be obeyed.

And what waits for us? What promise of light before us? Truth told, another two weeks of this relentless dominating darkness and cold. Less than two weeks really. For by that time, on the holy day of December 21st, the tilt of our planetary home starts to reverse in our favour - sorry about that southern hemisphere ;) - and the light comes back. It is the winter solstice - the longest night or the shortest day, call it what you will.  In a moment of madness - nay, near insanity - I once climbed Knocknarea in County Sligo on a dark and foggy morning of December 21st. How I made it to the top unscathed, I'm not so sure - it's a slippy and rough climb at the best time of the year.  I guess I thought I might greet the sunrise on this pivotal day - welcome back the sun and all - and that might mean something more than just another day. But the fog took the hope of magical sunrise and killed it ;) 

Us enlightened folk of the 21st century know the story of planetary motion well of course and for most of us the winter solstice probably passes by un-noticed, un-significant. But in days long ago, one might never be so sure that it - the friendly warming sun that allows life on Earth - would return. More than 4,000 years ago the people of Newgrange in Ireland followed the path of the sun and moon more closely and the return and lengthening of the light from that day in cold December marked the gift to live another year, to sow and reap crops and revel in their harvest. 

And so too for us in the Holly Cottage garden. There is little in the depressed vegetable patch now save the cold-defiant celery and spinach, and the Brussels sprouts to be picked for Christmas dinners. The garlic must go in the ground soon - before the shortest day - so there is some real urgency to complete that task. But that is really it, for now. I generally use this time to sit back and reflect. To watch the light fade on another year, like the fading credits at film's end. To think about the good, the bad and the ugly; the relishing of beetroot; the relentless rhubarb; the unfortunate blight afflicted spuds; the astronomical bounty of strawberries....and the hours spent doing forward bends on endless rows of weeds. All the other stuff too of course - the trials and tribulations of work, the global travels - the general ups and downs, and sidewards bends and twists of being human.  
Morning sun - winter in Lough Boora
And so, you will understand now when I write that this week was tough for us lovers of the light. Next week will be tougher, most likely the toughest. But after that - from Friday week - the light will return and we will sigh relief and yell bring it on for another year. In the meantime for these short few days left ahead, we wait...and we wait...with patience and some surprisingly resilient philosophical endurance. Must be all that standing on one's head ;)

By the way - look out for some new music coming your way through the Holly Cottage production company. As a taster - check out this link - more on a rainy theme, something we get plenty of in Ireland...

More to come.

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