by Laurel Kieffer
Darkness extends its long fingers across the ridge creating unfamiliar shadows out of familiar landmarks. Sunrise engages moonset in a dialogue oblivious to all that exists between them. Late coming dawn and early twilight steal from the day. Limited hours of light are a precious commodity to be used wisely.
The early mornings preceding deep winter cause me to pause. There is a celestial feel to this time of day, a reverence for the cyclic nature of the seasons. On a clear-sky day, I’m drawn to the subtle colors of pre-dawn cresting the eastern valley. And then, suddenly there is a burst of blinding radiance that presides over everything else. On many of those mornings, the moon reflects the brilliance of the coming dawn from the western horizon. I dangle between our two sources of light.
I resist the discomfort of rising out of a warm bed knowing that a shiver will run through me as my feet touch the cold floor. I layer myself with long underwear, sweatshirts, coveralls, hats and mittens. The minor inconvenience is quickly forgotten as soon as I step out the back door.
On this Solstice morning, ice-blue clouds cast a hold on the day. The winter gray hues of the snow-covered ridges and trees blend into the subdued tones of the sky. I am quiet coming out of the house, and time nearly stands still while I take a deep breath of the chill morning air, fully grounded in the moment. The quiet is embraced by the distant hoot of an owl, the screech of a hawk, or bark of a neighbor’s dog. And then Kali, my tortoise-shelled cat, stretches and comes over for her morning rub—the spell is broken and it’s on to the chores.
A pre-dawn chorus greets me. I shout out a “Good morning” to the ewes standing across the pond. They call back to me staring through the horizontal pipes of their paddock gate, impatient for their grain. Then the dogs begin barking in anticipation of games of Frisbee catch throughout chores followed by their breakfast. Fat, happy cats begin to stroll out from their cozy bundles in the straw and form a line to follow me on my way. Simultaneously, the donkeys begin braying, leading the sheep into performing a morning concert. Each sheep and donkey contributes to the song with a different pitch—a contemporary polytonal masterpiece. I feel welcomed and needed. Caring for the farm and animals nourishes my body, mind and soul.
The farm knows this is the season of rest and renewal. The garden produce is long-gone and is preserved in the pantry. Remnants of squash vines and cornstalks peak through the season’s first blanket of snow. The leaves have blown away to destinations unknown. The wild birds are cloaked in their winter garb and are frequenting the feeders again. The sheep’s mating season is completed. Already some of the expectant moms are showing signs of the budding new life within their wombs. Their udders are beginning to swell with the rich milk that their babies and I will share. The rams settle into non-combative mode as they munch on hay that was put up during the summer months. Life on the farm falls into a pattern of slow-motion eating and resting, content with what is.
The brilliant rays of the winter sun bounce off of the crystalized snow, dazzling my eyes and penetrating my soul. A sunny day in the single digits feels cheery and generous. I give the donkeys and sheep extra scratches behind their ears and along their backbones and perhaps a little extra grain or a special treat. Their appreciation and gratitude for the attention is expressed by leaning heavily into my touch and wagging their tails. I breathe in the cool, crisp air taking pause to be ever so grateful. The sun’s rays soak deeply into my winter coveralls, imprinting the memory of this moment in preparation for the cloudy days and long nights to come.
Solstice twilight approaches. I am drawn in and find it as poignant as the dawn. I recall childhood nights stretching out on the snow to engage with each constellation. Then traveling aboard the starship Enterprise, I encountered Cassiopeia, Orion, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor and beyond. I feel as one with generations of humans who also pondered the worlds out there. And then I am night skiing along the Lake Michigan shore, and then snowshoeing along the farm’s ridge. Memories of winter bliss blur with the present in a spatiotemporal existence.
A sudden blast of bone-chilling wind wakes me up from the meditation. There is an edge on the wind that shifts my mind to a sudden concern over climate change and its related impact on this beautiful planet. I shudder and then another deep breath of the fresh night air flushes my mind. The fears are released and for a moment, I am once again surrounded by deep stillness, a quiet mind, and a peaceful soul.
Light and darkness have ebbed and flowed in cycles for millions of years. Life on earth has flourished and diminished and flourished again in a spiral for millions of years. Human culture has cycled through darkness and light. The light has always returned.
I breathe deep. I relish the calm of darkness. I allow the softness of the gray days to surround me with comfort. I rest and welcome renewal. The light will come. For now, for tonight, in this moment, I honor the darkness.