In the woods now it is brighter than you would expect. Bare and skeletal tree limbs stretch, cross-hatched and groping, under a canopy emptied of leaves. The sun droops like a low-hanging and forgotten fruit, lonely and cold and clinging in the deep dusk of the winter afternoon.
We walk in the stillness along the old logging road. The rain-swollen creek beside us purls over stones and silt, and the ferns droop so that the tips of their fronds trail in the flow. It’s all muddy greens and browns here in the upper woods. It’s brittle husks of pasture grass and rotten blackberries still on the vine. The dogs careen joyfully. It’s all brilliant to them.
Tonight is the longest night; the deepest dark. The earth laid bare and shadowed.
When we were teenagers we would gather on the beach, and build a fire and huddle around it; our skin goose-pricked from the cold, our bellies full of sandy baguette and cheese, and our spirits warm and full. I knew even then it had nothing to do with the solstice, but everything to do with being together, alone out there in the desolate and dark. We were all so young. We were light enough, ourselves.
Now I fill the woodstove with logs Jasper cut in those long days of summer, when we could barely even fathom the dark of winter. The alder catches quick, the laurel burns hot. We touch matches to candles in the late afternoon and fill all the dark corners with the tentative flickers of light. Later, I’ll give my children pots and pans to clang together, and we’ll wake the apple trees and the earth, and we’ll turn slowly again toward light.
I feel so old, some days. I feel so far from those sandy, windswept beaches of my youth. And yet, that part of me remains. My spirit is warm, even in these cold, dark days. We are none of us extraordinary, but we are brilliant all the same.
These are the things that will abide, and the sun comes back again.