The Winter Solstice falls this year on the 22nd of December. The shortest day and the longest night of the year, the sun is now at it's very lowest point. For three days, it's position in the dawn sky will appear to 'stand still' in the furthest south-easterly position of its it's cycle, before it begins to be seen rising ever so slightly further north each morning until the summer solstice, or longest day.
As the last of the summer fades away I always look forward to the autumn ahead as a time of real sensual delight. In this the first of a series of blogs from me celebrating my favourite season I look at how to make it relevant to you, no matter where you live, and whatever your spiritual path.
Autumn is a time of rich abundance. The freshening air after a long summer can reinvigorate us, and encourage a more wistful, reflective state of mind that can help us develop our awareness to a deeper level. The scents of wood smoke and ripe apples waft over the countryside. The leaves begin to turn from green to golden, and the berries ripen on the branches in purples and scarlet making this a delicious, sensual time of year. A good opportunity to tune in to our wisdom of our bodies.
the flowers bend their bright bodies, and tip their fragrance to the air, and rise, their red stems holding all that dampness and recklessness gladly and lightly, and there it is again — beauty the brave, the exemplary, blazing open. Do you love this world?
–excerpt “Peonies” by Mary Oliver*
Loving the world feels like a difficult topic to write about today when I see news coverage of the recent oil spill in Santa Barbara and read about the dolphins dying. It can be easy to start to feel discouraged and hopeless in the face of such destruction and lack of love for the earth, our precious, irreplaceable home.
I have always loved the colour of the night sky in winter. It almost never seems entirely black; instead, it blue with refracted gloaming, even at the dark of the moon, even at midnight. And yet, the stars are never so clear as they are in the midst of winter, as Orion charges out from the horizon to chase Taurus with Canis Major barking at his heels. The jewel in the Great Dog’s collar, Sirius, sparkles like a radiant prism diamond as it cycles through white, red, green and blue (though of course this is only atmospheric refraction) just over the Southern Horizon; Castor and Pollux wink out of the sky’s zenity; and the Pleiades sparkle like a celestial diamond ring. Meanwhile, in the Northern Horizon the Dragon rears his head, and the Big and Little Bears point the way.
It’s dark for a long time here above the 49th Parallel at this time of year. The sun sets at around 3:30 pm and it doesn’t rise again until almost 8:30 in the morning. That’s seventeen hours worth of night. I find it challenging to deal with. But it gives you a long time to contemplate the stars and the celestial mysteries. Maybe that long night is part of the reason why the stars are so clear; there’s so much less sunlight leaking into the sky by the time one considers the stars in winter. Or maybe it’s because high-pressure fronts coming down from the Arctic Circle chase the clouds away and the sky opens up to reveal the vastness of the celestial firmament.
In the Blue Mountains, where I live, seasons are very pronounced by the colours around us. We have an interesting mix of native and imported trees and the blend between the two creates bright palates in among the steady grey-greens of eucalypts, tree ferns and native grasses. Earlier, in spring the tea-tree blossoms were so prominent in places it was a sea of white with their pinky-red centres and when they began to give way the gum trees put out sudden new growth; all their tips that danced in the breezes looking red in the sunlight; it felt like I was watching the shift from spring into early summer in that colour change.