Finding Refuge on the Eve of the Winter Solstice

It is early morning on the eve of the winter solstice, neither dark nor light but both—in a way. Even for north Florida, it is cold. I have the car heater on low as I drive to St. Mark’s Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf of Mexico.

It is perfect winter solstice weather.

Winter Solstice Skies 1214

The solstice celebrates the dark during a season given to light, a reminder that in light there is always dark. Yin-Yang. Oneness.

And there is the inherent stillness of the solstice. The increasingly dark and deepening autumnal sleep culminates in the pivotal moment of the winter solstice.

After this day, every dawn will mean more light and less night, as slumber gives way to the awakening of the spring solstice.

Every year, I write these words or similar ones regarding the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere. Usually, I celebrate the event with a walk around Waverly Pond but this has not been a year of “doing things as usual,” even holiday traditions.

Rather, it has been a year of firsts. Some may mean new traditions for me, among them driving to St. Mark’s on the eve of the solstice. Perhaps more than any other season of my life, I am immersed in transformation.

It is not surprising that I am drawn to the Refuge where transformation is in evidence everywhere.

Areas of longleaf pine stand stark in their burnt orange and black beauty against gray, morning skies. Wiregrass is the color of wheat ready to harvest.

Quiet of the marshes 1214

It is the season for prescribed or controlled burning, a matter of survival for the longleaf and wiregrass ecosystems. They depend upon the transformation fire brings–first alight with flame and then, darkness.

Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on,

and we are left with the feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end

because it is.

(Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening)

As I look across saltwater marshes in seasonal slumber—timeless transformation–I cannot imagine being anywhere else on this dark, gray morning on the eve of the winter solstice.

Marshes 1214

In the quiet dark, I am mindful of the necessity of letting go in life. It takes time, transformation does, time to awaken to the light of a life yet to come, time to welcome the world anew.

Mindfulness gives you time. Time gives you choices. Choices, skillfully made, lead to freedom.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana

The solstice seasonal slumber reminds me to quiet myself, to observe the dark that is as much a part of this festive season as is the light. In the stillness of the dark, the light swirls.

On the marshes of St. Mark’s on the eve of this winter solstice, I let a life lived end as a life I have not begins. Each ending is yet a beginning, a time for slumber in anticipation of awakening anew.

In keeping with the light and dark of the season, regular blog posts will return in 2015.

18 thoughts on “Finding Refuge on the Eve of the Winter Solstice

  1. Beautiful words and images, though unfamiliar associations to me up here in deep snow at this time of year. And, your line “After this day, every dawn will bring more light and less night” is brilliant! Thank you.


    1. Having once lived in the Rocky Mountain West–at times I lived at an elevation of more than a mile high–I know the deep snow of which you speak. In this third act of my life, I am fortunate to live in a subtropical climate. I never forget the contrast of the two. So glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for your kind words.


    1. Hi, Michele!
      For me, it is such a time of energy and risk for the unknown looms. Yet, I know that in letting go I am also receiving something new, perhaps even a bit shiny. Best to you, Michele.


  2. ” It takes time, transformation does, time to awaken to the light of a life yet to come, time to welcome the world anew.” that’s why we don’t see babies for the first months of their evolution. it takes time… and the quiet we see in the egrets and blue herons that look over the marsh water.

    What a beautiful meditation for the end of the year, Karen. Beautiful transitioning to you during winter’s sleep. Meredith


    1. There is not much of the natural wild left in Florida but St. Mark’s is one. In any season, it really is a refuge. Hope your holidays were warm and wonderful.


  3. Thank you for beautiful thoughts, as always. The Nepo quote is such a poignant reminder as I fight some of the change in my life. I need to remember it is just the end of what I know. Not the end of “wonderful”, “unimaginable”, “joy”. The beginning of better . . .


    1. It may have been when I was sitting among the monarchs that I began to appreciate the wonder of transformation. Watching a butterfly makes it obvious but what is less obvious are all the stages in-between. That’s where I am now. For me, it’s as much of a challenge as it is a wonder.

      Thanks, Kay. Mark Nepo is great favorite of mine; I return to his work often. I think the first two years of my posts featured him almost every week. 😉


  4. Beautiful post and lovely photos. You inspire me to honor the stillness and the dark, while celebrating this season of light. Thank you. I always look forward to your entries.


  5. Thank you, Karen, for your reflections that take me to this Wildlife Refuge as we are poised between the ending of this year and the beginning of a new year. I am grateful for the coming longer days, each day a little longer, a reality we cannot ‘possess’ — but we can be mindful.


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