In the Southern Hemisphere, today marks the start of summer, the moment to briefly grasp before the world starts spinning into fall. Days will grow shorter, colder, sharper. Darkness is encroaching. It’s time to make the last hurrah as the seasons shift, it’s time to breathe a deep sigh of relief as the end to the punishingly hot weather approaches, it’s time to lay in stock and supplies to prepare for the darkening months ahead.
Fall fruit is on the trees, starting to ripen up. It’s too hot to think about them now, but comforting foods of fall, roasts and hot pies and spiced drinks, are starting to percolate in the back of the imagination. The day is long and seems to stretch into eternity, but eventually night and a hush will fall. The stars are in their summer positions and perhaps the night will be clear so that they can be observed. The lingering warmth of the day will insulate observers as they look skywards.
Perhaps fires will be lit, as they still are, in some regions of the world, to celebrate. The light and heat of the fire at night a reminder of the warm and bright days of summer. Winter, darkness, grimness seem a world away. We may live in a troubled world, but cherries are in season and the deck is invitingly warm and people have time off and some things are going right with the world.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are emerging from our period of darkness. We have been steeped in the dark for months, the ever shortening days, the bitter cold which eats away at the joints in the morning, the anemic, watery light which never seems to penetrate or fully warm anything. Standing for an hour in the sun, I feel no effect. I might as well be standing in a dark closet, for all the good it does me.
I grow sluggish and dull in winter. Sleeping for nine hours or more every night, waking up in the dark, watching the light play fleetingly across the sky so that it becomes dark again all too soon. My words are slow and thick, like molasses, my thoughts are difficult to articulate and sometimes I am not even sure that I have thoughts. My brain feels imprisoned in a block of ice, occasionally quietly burbling to itself as a reminder that it is still alive and functioning, albeit barely.
Everything seems so much harder and darker and insurmountable in winter. Everything sets me into a towering rage or a pit of sadness or a whirlwind of frustration. Things are more extreme and serious in the darkness. My inability to escape the dark which chases me makes me feel helpless and trapped, as though I will never be able to find my way out. Winter defeats me. It crushes me.
Today is the day that the Queen of the Underworld awakens and stirs, rises to the surface to bring back the light. I know that tomorrow and the next day and the day after that will probably be cold and short and bitter. I will stumble on cold floors in the morning because my ankles hurt and feel so stiff that I can’t imagine a time when they actually bent and flexed. The light will still be so thin that the cats won’t even bother to lie in the sun, because it’s entirely unproductive.
Everything is still tightly furled and closed against the cold today. The bulbs are dormant under the ground. The trees are still and quiet. This, the shortest day of the year, will be over in a brief flurry. I know that the New Year is technically next week, but right now, today, feels like the new year to me. It’s the day that the slate gets wiped clean to start all over again with the cycle.
Chop dig fence build.
Today is the day that I know winter really does end, that I am not trapped forever in ever-shortening days until finally I will be in a world that is entirely night. Today is the day that I remember warm summer days, the taste of sun-ripened fruit, diving into warm river water stained to the color of tea by falling bay leaves. Today is the day that I remember that darkness does come to an end, and there is light at the other side.
Today is the solstice, the day when the world is poised on a knife’s edge of turning and rebirth. Things can go anywhere from here. Even though we live in a troubled world, I am reminded that sometimes things do go right. Winter does end. Days grow long again. Cherries will be in season six months from now, and I will eat them, bursting with flavor and sweetness and coloring my lips bright red, next to a river somewhere, spitting the pits into the forest and wondering if they have a chance of growing up to be cherry trees.