|Winter waterfall in Six Mile Creek|
|Hammond Hill in winter|
|Alan Pike, always at home in his headlamp|
This Christmas, I’m more keenly aware than ever that I’m not alone in missing someone who is gone. Every year the holidays remind us of those who are no longer here to share them with – and for me, the winter months and Christmas are always hardest. Growing up in New York State, winter was a favorite season. I’d sit and watch the snowflakes fall for what seemed like hours, tucked under a blanket with a sleeping dog for company. At my father’s house on Christmas day we would venture out for a snowy hike in the woods or if the conditions were right, a cross-country ski – sometimes in the dark of night, if the moon was bright enough, me, my father, my sister, and one fleece-encased dog, her breath coming in puffs as we glided along the powder white trail. The skies were always grey, and we’d walk the woods bundled in down jackets, hats and gloves, the skin of our faces blushed and smooth in the cold. Later in the steamy kitchen, my father would whip up filet mignon, or some creamy rich concoction with haddock and crab, and always for dessert a chocolate raspberry torte and decaf coffee. After dinner we’d sit in my father’s living room opening gifts, trying to stifle our teenage annoyance when he’d reach over to stick a bow on our foreheads because hey, it’s the holidays. We’d drape ourselves in discarded ribbons; he’d open his obligatory chamois shirt from LL Bean and act as though it were spun with threaded gold.
|My father in his kitchen|
Now that I’m more mindful of the celestial shifting of our planet and the times of the year that mark turning seasons, the Winter solstice has become an important addition to my holiday season. The changes of the earth mark a time for remembering, and it is in this space that I can honor the memory of my father and others I’ve lost over the years. The shortest day, the longest night, it feels to me like a time of spirits. I’ll leave some wine and plates of honey and cheese in a few special places around the yard and burn some incense for my father as darkness falls. In that way I suppose I do not celebrate so much as I turn inward. These days I am not urging on the coming of spring. I relish the quiet dark days and the sleepy, introspective energy they possess. With everyone on vacation, for a few precious days email nearly ceases altogether, and I relish the break from obligation. I pickup a new and challenging historical or mythological text to study, I try to be more diligent about the things that are delightful, but that take time - evening baths in candlelight, morning meditation, and yoga.
When writing about the Winter Solstice, author and scholar Joseph Campbell pointed out that the weather during the wintry months even long ago necessitated an indoor fire, which made the ceremony more intimate by nature, as opposed to it’s seasonal “yang” celebration of Midsummer, where outdoor bonfires that drew the entire community were the norm. So perhaps, though here in Charleston it is rainy and over 70 degrees, I’ll light a fire tonight. To remember those wintry nights tucked into the warmth of my father’s living room while he was with us, and to create the time to sit and be with him, wherever he is, still.
|Me and my father|
|A winter walk in the woods|
|Alan Pike, The Man, The Myth|