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Date:9/23/2014 9:28:02 AM
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Winter Solstice, Part II
At this time of year, when the days are at their shortest, the nights last forever, and life in general seems to be at its lowest ebb; we humans tend to look for assurances that the sun will indeed make its way northward again. At the homestead, at this time of year, the sun at noon would shine directly down the stairs to our cellar. Pa would make a chalk mark on the concrete floor on the day of the solstice, and on each sunny day he would make the next chalk mark farther along on the floor. These marks gave proof to him that the sun had changed its course . . . and it got him through another winter. For me, when I was in my teens and hated winter, I would take a walk on a sunny January day and stand among the branches of an oak that still had its dead leaves from the summer before. I would close my eyes and listen to the wind rattling through the dead oak leaves and pretend I was hearing the summer breezes lift the green leaves of a poplar or maple. I've read that in northern Norway, in a village where the sun is not seen for a month or more at this time of year; young men would climb the local mountain peak to see the sun a week before the rest of the village.
This hunger for warmth and light is shared by most living things, and we do what we can to cope with the cold and darkness. But the winter solstice is also a time for reflexion, for taking stock. The month of January is named for the Roman god Janus, who among other things, was the guardian of entryways. (From whence we get the word "janitor," meaning "doorkeeper." Thus Janus was often portrayed as having two faces, one looking forward, the other backwards. January then, is a time of reflection upon the year past, and preparing for the year to come. It is a humorous example of human nature that we wait for more than a week after the solstice, until it is undeniably evident that the sun has reversed it's course to the north, that we then acknowledge officially that a new year has begun. It's as if each winter we need absolute proof that the sun is returning before we commit ourselves to starting another year. --Gary
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