Solstice

A friend of mine gave me a Meyer lemon the other day. She came into Headlands on her way to somewhere else, and said:

“I wanted to give this to you,” and she reached into a paper bag, and at first I thought it was some sort of holiday gift, and I felt guilty for not getting something for her. She pulled her hand out with a perfect, sweetly scented lemon, and she handed it to me like a jewel.

“It’s from my parents’ tree,” she said, “in Chico.”

The lemon had an intoxicating aroma, and I immediately placed it beneath my nostrils and inhaled deeply.

“Thank you, it smells delicious,” I said, and she continued on her way through the evening. The lemon is sitting next to my bed now, because I can’t bear to cut it open, and my whole bedroom smells like sweet lemons, like Greece, like sunshine.

Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year.

The interesting thing for me about the solstice, beyond the fact that it marks a change of seasons and an interesting point in our orbit around the Sun, is that people have been celebrating it for thousands of years. It’s kind of amazing to me that early human cultures were able to calculate the solstices, and recognize that something important was shifting, even if they couldn’t necessarily explain the science behind the solstice. The fact that earlier human cultures were able to build huge structures like Stonehenge which were calibrated in accordance with solstices is even more amazing.

Seriously. We take all of these things for granted, and it’s kind of amazing to think about how far we have come (or fallen, as the case may be) as a society. I could look up the exact time of the solstice (10:08 last night) in about 30 seconds on the trusty El Goog, so I don’t really think about how astonishing it is to figure out things like that with only rudimentary tools.

Many winter solstice traditions involve keeping lights on through the longest night, as a reminder that times of light are coming, and it’s intriguing that this tradition has sort of been borrowed by Christmas, what with light bedecked trees and all. Granted, the Christians kind of stole a lot of pagan traditions in the hopes of getting more people on board with their new religion, so I guess it’s not really that remarkable that Christmas shares similarities with older traditions. I still superstitiously leave a candle burning overnight, because I would hate to be responsible for the sun’s decision to remain in the Underworld for a year or something.

In various corners of the world, people are celebrating the solstice in their own ways; for my readers in the southern hemisphere, this marks the start of the descent into darkness, while we in the north are looking forward to longer days. I feel like I am anticipating shorter nights even more than usual this year; the dark has felt more oppressive, for some reason, than it has in the past. I hope it makes me appreciate the summer all the more. Although I have to say that I am so much happier now than I was at this time last year, it’s kind of amazing. It may be dark and freezing, but at least I’m home and my confused narcissus is blooming and there’s a frosted cake on the counter. Well, actually, in the fridge, because of the ants, but “on the counter” sounds better, don’t you think?

I used to stay up and try to watch the sunrise on the solstice, usually from the headlands at Caspar. I like watching sunrises. The cold stillness, the dew, the waiting as a thin thread of light fingers across the horizon, slowly getting larger and larger while the sky turns more and more pale and then suddenly the sun appears. It reminds me of the scene in The Phantom Tollbooth when Milo tries to conduct the orchestra and ends up making a giant mess of things. Maybe that’s why I like to watch sunrises; I’m secretly hoping for a repeat of Milo’s performance.

Sunsets aren’t half bad either, honestly.