Originally published Dec 16, 2015 written by Emily van Lidth de Jeude
At the community choir concert this past stormy weekend, every choir member carried a flash light. If the power had gone out (which, unfortunately, it didn’t), they would have continued by flash light, as they did briefly at one of their rehearsals, last month. So in one of our quirky Bowen moments, the choir left the stage with headlamps and flash lights in hand, and three headlamps still dangling from the rungs of a stool, on stage. And during intermission we hung around in the foyer of the Chapel, and some of us out in the windy dark night.
This is the time of darkness, when life and community brings us out to walk around caroling or shopping or visiting with friends, and an increasing amount of that time is spent in the dark. There’s something about the lack of light that makes us appreciate the gift of it, and everything else we often take for granted. As the sun drops off our horizon, we begin to see in different ways.
Dusk is confusing to me; my mind still believes I can see, but my eyes struggle to resolve the vast array of patterned greys. It’s like being lost in the half-tones of a rich intaglio print, and eventually I lose visual focus, reverting to other senses, as recourse. Have you ever noticed the sound of bats’ wings as they turn in flight, or the buzz of a night hawk’s dive? It’s a sound that strikes me at the top of my spine, as the world falls into dark.
I like to walk through the woods without a flash light. During my many walks throughout the year I have come to know these woods, so that darkness brings new experiences, but not often new footing. Still I have to feel my way along, and go much more slowly than I would during the day. The moon is a welcome lamp, but on moonless nights, like the one last week between the storms, even the stars give light. It takes a certain amount of darkness to be able to notice the stars’ light falling between the boughs of hemlock and cedar. I enjoy the softness of soggy needles underfoot, and the cool refreshing damp of the air on my cheeks. This is the joy of living in a rural place where we choose wilderness over concrete; sensual exploration over street lights and expediency. Especially at this time of year.
This is the time of darkness – not just because of the number of daylight hours, but because of the power outages, throwing our families into impromptu candlelight dinners and wood-stove-cooked meals, necessitating neighbourly helping-out, caretaking and community. We chose this island; we chose this lifestyle, and many of us delight in the inconvenience. This is the time we celebrate the darkness by lighting our cove and our homes, and by singing to our trees. Yes, my family sings to our trees.
On Midwinter morning we go out to get a Christmas tree. It’s always a tree that is slated or fated to come down anyway, and we bring it inside to decorate. As we hang up the cherished ornaments, some of them generations old, we sing, and share memories of years past. As the longest night of the year falls around us, we hit the main breaker for the house, light lanterns from the fire in the wood stove, and parade out into the dark, weaving a stream of firelight through the yard. We sing the Tree Wassail to all the fruit trees and to many other cherished trees, as well. As we walk around singing, tripping, laughing, holding hands and trekking through swampy areas, we feel the world around us. In rainy years, the rain slips in around our necks and soaks our heads as we go. When it’s frosty the grass crunches under our feet and sometimes the sky opens up to reflect our fire with starlight.
When we’ve sung to the trees, we return inside, where we take the fire from our lanterns and light the candles on the Christmas tree, symbolically bringing the light we originally took from the wood stove back in to light our home. And then of course we sit around singing together all evening. That’s how we spend our Midwinter, singing to the trees.
May winter’s cold to you be kind
May you blossom in the spring sunshine
May gentle rain in its season fall
May you be loved by one and all
~ From the Tree Wassail, by Starhawk
– Emily van Lidth de Jeude