Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, the longest night.
I like to pay attention to such things. I like to notice when the moon is bright and full and also when it’s dark and making room for the stars to shine. I like to stop and look with wonder when the first crocuses push through the snow in spring or when the maple trees begin getting tapped and feel the stirrings of spring potential begin to rise within me as well. Or when there begins to be light late enough in the day for a post-dinner run in the woods. Or when the very edges and tips of the leaves begin to fade from green to orange or yellow or red.
I like to pay attention to the seasons and the cycles and rhythms that are always circling around us, beckoning us if we’d only pause in our bustling long enough to notice. Part of this is trying to better attune myself, my life, to the natural rhythms around me in hopes of flowing more seamlessly through the seasons and cycles of my own life, to do the work of embracing where I am right now, this age and this stage, rather than looking back on youth with rose-colored nostalgia or aging with fear and regret. I'll turn forty this spring and as I continue this shift into and through middle age, I want to appreciate the true beauty of this stage of my life honestly. To recognize this summer season and make use of its long days as I move toward the fall and then finally the winter of my fleeting existence. By noticing the seasons and cycles of the natural world, I practice drawing strength and enjoyment of each season in turn and work toward integrating those patterns into my attitudes about myself and my life and my work.
But just as important (maybe even more on a day-to-day basis) is that noticing these shifts and cycles allows me to mark time. This is absolutely vital in my life. I think it was Gretchen Rubin who famously said “the days are long but the years are short” and boy howdy, is she ever right. Between grocery shopping and deadlines and dealing with the laundry and cooking dinner and the general minutia of daily life, I often feel like weeks go by where I fall into bed too late and the alarm goes off too early and the days begin to blur together taking care of I’m-not-exactly-sure-what. The pause to notice the moon or the tides or the smell of woodsmoke or lilacs on the air helps me roll back that blur and see the days that make up my weeks, the weeks that make up my months, my years, my life.
I find myself naturally turning inward this time of year. The long nights and the end of the calendar year simply lend themselves to reflection, to looking back over the year, over the hundreds of days of errands and alarms and conversations and hugs and all the things we did and didn’t do. After tomorrow the sun will begin its return, each day growing infinitesimally longer, and it’s impossible not to turn toward the year ahead with fresh hope and resolve, to see the renewal of spring off on the horizon, even while we allow ourselves the space and rest of long winter nights.
Tomorrow is the longest night of this year that is drawing to its close. I will take the pause and I will mark the time, ever grateful for the reminder to be right where I am.
Have you ever seen the incredible geothermals of Yellowstone? Make sure you get there someday if you haven't yet- they must be experienced in the flesh, the warm sulfurous clouds that kiss your cheeks as they pass through you, the jewel-blue pools and their mysterious depths, the white mineral crusts on the tree trunks. It's ethereal and primeval and taps something primitive. Get there.