I’m a night owl. In summer, I rarely see the sun rise. At Winter Solstice in the Pacific Northwest, it’s easy, even for me.
Yesterday morning, just after eight, I sat looking east out of our living room windows. Four floor-to-ceiling panels of ten small panes each, with the original glass from when the house was built in 1912. I could see the sun just clearing the houses, edging the tall, dark green, Lawson cypress trees next to the southeast border of our yard. At Summer Solstice, the sun rises far to the northeast. As I measured the width of our yard with my eyes—75 feet—I could zoom out in my mind and sense the earth’s tilt as it circles the sun, with us perched up north on its surface.
The Equinoxes are times of balance: equal days and nights. At the Solstices we feel the extremes of darkness and light. This Winter Solstice, there are so many other human extremes. Extreme devastation, suffering, and death in Israel and Gaza, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Extreme violence and threats of violence here at home. Extreme calls for destruction of our democracy and establishment of a fascist regime. Extreme weather events. Extreme assaults on our environment from airplanes, cars, toxins, bulldozers, chainsaws. Extreme assaults on human rights.
Then there are personal extremes. Two beloved members of our community have chosen medically-assisted deaths in the last two months. Both journeyed out of this life in peace, surrounded by love. Both deaths affirmed agency and release from suffering. And both remind me of my own mortality and that of my loved ones. The final extreme.
It is tempting to respond to extreme events with extreme emotions and actions. I am a recovering workaholic, so that is my default extreme. One more outraged letter to the City Council or the Port of Seattle about lost tree canopy and environmental inequity. One more gathering around one more or a dozen or several dozen huge Western red cedars or Douglas-firs or broadleaf maples that a developer plans to cut down on a steep slope in a flood zone. One more phone call, Zoom meeting, petition, legal action, administrative task. One more, always just one more.
Winter is time for a different extreme: rest. Repair. Connection. Weaving nets to catch the future. How little I value all of that. The gift of aging is that the body refuses to be driven so hard. I have to stop.
And when I slow down, stop, the beauty catches up with me, catches me up, gathers me in its arms. The beauty of this world, this human and more-than-human world, stops us, takes our breath away. We have to stop and breathe, breathe it in. The oxygen that the trees freely give us, in exchange for the carbon they store. The lights that sparkle on every door, every porch. The love that lights our faces, our hearts, our lives.
What if the biggest extreme this Winter Solstice is not darkness, destruction, or death, but love?