The winter sun weakens. We slow, snuggle, and loll in dreams. Life retreats, hibernates, gathers itself into a still core. Days are short and feeble, nights long and cold. The sun slows to a stop. We turn inward to draw from the deep, dark well of winter.
Here in Northern California, the summer dry season ends and it starts to rain. The hills sprout green. Merlin enjoys the rainy season. He frolics in the rain, splashes through the deepest puddles, races around the muddy fields, and rolls in the soggy fresh grass. At home, we towel off, light candles against the dark, and snuggle into a warm puppy pile under sleeping bags.
On winter solstice eve, we walk a candlelit labyrinth.
Over the next few days we watch the light, willing it to strengthen. By Christmas, we notice days are just a tad longer and brighter. Spring is a long quarter year away, but on the winter solstice, light returns to the world. Hope is renewed.
We celebrate the re-turn of the sun, imagining ancient sky watchers who set stones and timbers to mark the weakest extreme of the sun’s yearly journey. The Neolithic great chambered tomb of Newgrange in Ireland is aligned to winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of dawn light flowed into the passageway to illuminate triple spiral carvings in the heart of the tomb. You can watch it live via internet webcam. It was cloudy this year.
Winter solstice sunset was also a popular Neolithic holiday and Stonehenge hosts a spectacular light show. Aussie dog Merlin has yet to travel (physically) to Stonehenge, but I have visited a dozen times. A UNESCO World Heritage site in southern England, Stonehenge is a interminable magnet of mystery, controversy, speculation, and spectres. Winter solstice is my favorite time. No crowds, long strafing light, misty muted stones. The sun is a pale circle crawling along the southern sky towards the great gate of stones. At sunset it sinks between the trilithons and seems to pause. It hangs hitched to the henge, light pouring fourth along the winter solstice sunset/ summer solstice sunrise alignment with the outlying Heel Stone. Stonehenge has marked the sun’s journey for over 5,000 years. Now, you have to watch from the road through the fence to stand on the exact winter alignment. It’s worth it.