The sun sets in just the amount of time, past 4 pm, that it takes me to make a cup of tea. I know this because I slide into my cabin at 4, thinking of going outside again with tea in hand, then find that it’s dark, darkening, rapidly.. It’s not such a bad thing but it certainly slows me down, finds me sleepy and rethinking any ambitious plans. Until the winter solstice happens seconds of light will be shaved off each day until, at our darkest, when there’s a 7:55 a.m. sunrise and 4:20 p.m. sunset, the system, like clockwork, will begin to gradually reverse, toward light, longer, once again.
Laying hens’ egg production drops to its lowest this time of year (the flock of 70 or so chickens at GreenMan Farm are laying around 21 eggs a day, possibly because their diet is supplemented with good, raw, milk? Most flocks of this size, this time of year, lay 3-5 eggs, max). Like magic or, rather, like Nature, once the solstice arrives their production spikes with the consistent increase of daylight. My body, more connected than I realize or am possibly ready to admit, feels this in a new, unfamiliar way. It is marvelous, indulgent, and indisputable. I cannot fight with whatever’s pulling me inside: for warmth, to take cover, to live out of sight, read, dream, and sleep.
At the start of this new pattern I felt guilty, preoccupied with thoughts of what I could do or accomplish if I just had more energy, more daylight to see by. It’s a revelatory notion to really live with the seasons, to let go and acknowledge that these are unique days and special times. The land
I work on and the sky I work under dictate my schedule rather than an alarm clock, a time clock, or deadlines. Of course, it’s hard to turn off responsibilities that are embedded in the way I’ve lived my life up til now, or to quiet inspiration that wants badly to drive some parts of me. But when I’m able submit to this I am also immobilizing fear and terror, and their paralyzing, choking ways. With a good freeze Winter knows exactly when, and how, to quell the ruckus so that we can start again, refreshed and rested.
So I will take sleep, simple, slow, and plentiful, over these other modalities. For now.
I’m readying myself to fly back to New York, to celebrate Christmas with my family in Cropseyville and to visit with friends, regroup for a while. While I’ve successfully down sized many things in my life (and will do so further when I’m confronted by a wall of boxes in my parent’s garage this visit home), there are a few important pieces of paper that have stayed close to me, secure in the glove box of the car for easy access when I need them. Paper with words have helped me in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
From an excerpt of a letter from Alan McClintock, describing his experience hitch hiking across the States in the 1970’s:
“East of Skaneateles, New York, I got a ride from a weathered dairy farmer taking a holsten calf to auction. He drove a faded and worn old Dodge, its cab rear window broken out and the calf licked our necks as we rumbled along. The farmer, whose name I’ve forgotten, asked where I was headed. I replied that I was traveling west to sit by the Pacific. We spent almost an hour together and he shared that he hadn’t made time to travel since his children left home and he gave up a job (he called his “hard-time job”) selling milking machinery during some previous winter of economic hardship. Laughing, he said he now stayed home with his wife and cows.
When I asked what he missed most, he said Sunday dinners with the family and his children who had scattered like seeds on a late summer breeze and stories they would share about their week’s adventures.
Our ride together ended at some crossroads running into the four directions. Before departing, he asked that when I returned East would I make my way to his farm and share my adventure with him and his wife. One of my regrets is that I never stopped to tell my pilgrim’s tale.
Remember you are loved and that your family and friends travel with you. We await your return and the telling of your story.”
At home I will share my story and hug the people I’ve known for years, decades, a lifetime – a feeling so impossible to describe or fake or replicate – and be drunk on the love and familiarity and the smells and the memories, the sweetness and laughter and fun and new adventures (hopefully involving snow). Though the time there always goes by so fast, like time everywhere does, really, it will sustain me for what is still a long winter ahead.