Winter Moon of the Long Nights
“Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.” William Ernest Henley, Invictus
The Winter Solstice. Today and tonight. 23.4 degrees of tilt. Explanation for the tilt is not settled science though at least part of the answer seems to lie in the accretion of matter and the occasional outright collisions that occurred during our planets formation early in the history of the solar system. Another interesting theory, perhaps part of the answer too, is that any large imbalance, say a supervolcano with a huge mass, could have caused the earth to tilt so that mass ended up near the equator.
Whatever the exact reason, the current tilt, which remains constant as the earth revolves around the sun, creates our seasons. As the earth orbits, the tilt causes a reduction and increase of the energy of the sun’s light by either concentrating it during the summer solstice (leaning toward the sun) or by spreading the light over a wider area (leaning away from the sun) during the winter solstice. Today at 9:28 MST the northern hemisphere will be at its maximum tilt away from the sun while, of course, the southern hemisphere is thrust toward the sun and celebrating its summer solstice.
All of this is a continuing evolution caused by forces set in motion by the big bang over 13 billion years ago. The fact that I’m sitting at 8,800 feet on a chunk of rock thrust up by the Laramide orogeny, watching snow drift down as the air up here cools toward below zero temperatures, waiting for the longest night of the year, 14 hours and 39 minutes here in Conifer, showcases the violent origins and their ongoing impacts on earth and her sister planets. When we settle into the chair tonight, or hike outside with a headlamp, or listen to some quiet jazz or Holst’s The Planets, the darkness enveloping us is an in the moment result.
As the earth leans away from the sun, we can lean into the darkness, the long night when the woods are lovely, dark and deep. As we do, we have the opportunity to sink into the fecund darkness within us, a soul link with the darkness all around us and our tiny solar system. In it we can recall sleeping animals in their dens, beneath chilled lake waters, in their lodges made of sticks and branches. In the darkness we can rest a moment beneath the surface of the snow and cold covered soil where roots and microbes work feverishly transmitting nutrients and available water into plants slowed, but not killed by the seasonal temperatures.
In the darkness we can attend to the dark things within us, the places in our souls where our own origins and their ongoing impacts create a climate for our growth, down below the conscious considerations of our day-to-day lives. We can embrace this darkness, not as a thing to fear, but as a part of life, a necessary and fruitful part of life.
I’ll sit in my chair this evening as the night unfolds (I love that imagery.) and consider death, my death, my return to the woods, lovely dark and deep. And, I’ll hug close to my heart the life I’ve been given and this opportunity, granted by the stars, to meditate on it.