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.

With Two Wolves is the Wisdom of One

In these days preceding the winter solstice, it is the Cherokee story of the two wolves within that is most on my mind. As the solstice is the darkest day of the year, it is also the solstice sliver of light that reminds us life renews–no matter what. Perhaps on no other day is the nature of fear and fearlessness so apparent.

Facing fear means we sit down with the two wolves that live within us–one light, one dark—and accept that denying either wolf creates a constant battle that cannot be won only continuously fought. Each wolf is the other’s half–left vs. right, good vs. bad, this vs. that—fearlessness seeks the wisdom of the whole.

As far as I know, the Cherokee story is the only version of the two wolves that advises wisdom may be found in both light and dark. Some days feature more of one than the other but insight is born of both. When we admit we are afraid—when we sit with our two wolves–all that is left is fearlessness.

“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both” (Beyond the Conflict of Inner Forces, a post at www.awakin.org). That we have a choice is critical to remember for even in the dark of the winter solstice there is light.

Storm Clouds 081913

“Nobody can give you fearlessness. Even if the Buddha were sitting right here next to you, he couldn’t give it to you. You have to practice it and realize it yourself. If you make a habit of mindfulness practice, when difficulties arise, you will already know what to do” (Thich Nhat Hanh).

And yes, no one can give us mindfulness, either—I am beginning to suspect it may be the other half of fearlessness–for being mindful means we meet the dark and light of life without favoring one or the other, only appreciating the wisdom of the whole:

“When we practice inviting all our fears up, we become aware that we are still alive, that we still have many things to treasure and enjoy. If we are not pushing down and managing our fear, we can enjoy the sunshine, the fog, the air, and the water. If you can look deep into your fear and have a clear vision of it, then you really can live a life that is worthwhile” (Thich Nhat Hanh).

The here and now is the only reality we ever have; to meet it fearlessly is to live life as it unfolds in the dark and in the light.

For me, these waning days of 2013 offer more unknown than known—maybe more light than dark or more dark than light—regardless, I sit with my inner wolves, mindful of the promise of the winter solstice and the wisdom of one.

(Regular blog posts will resume by December 29, 2013).

Waverly in Winter

(Regular blog posts will resume December 30, 2012; happy holidays to all!)

The light and dark of the days leading into the winter solstice are ones I observe closely; the actual date is the darkest day of the year, and it is the day of fewest hours of light. But after the 24 hours that is the winter solstice, every dawn that follows  offers more light and less night.

The autumnal sleep culminates in the pivotal moment of the winter solstice, as the slumber stirs toward the light, day by day, growing and warming to the spring solstice. For me, there is an ending of one in the beginning of another for what is an ending if not a beginning.

KMHuberImage; Cooper; Beagle mixAlmost daily, Cooper and I meet day’s first light at Waverly pond. It is Cooper’s favorite time of day and these days, his best time, for the drier winter mornings are preferable to the usual humidity of northern Florida. His discomfort from arthritis is increasing as is his inflammation but there are still mornings when he tries out a bit of a trot, which forces me to keep up. He has taught me that any day improves with movement.

Waverly is a marvel in any season but this is my first winter with her.  Her waters have receded so that the turtles no longer feed under the bridge, which Cooper and I still cross more often than not. He is in the winter of his life but not yet in the deep sleep of the solstice, while I remain on the edge KMHuberImage; larch autumn needlesbetween autumn and winter.

Jack-o’-lantern orange needles thicken Waverly’s diminishing green carpet of earthen brown leaves, tamped with damp. Even on overcast mornings, brown, green, and orange are vibrant, showy even. The needles are from what may be a golden larch–so very like a pine with swooping, willow-like limbs—its needles an elegantly rich blanket for winter.

KMHuberimage; larch in autumnBy the spring solstice, the larch’s velvet needles will re-dress every limb and branch in sweeping splendor–such is the life of a larch–slumbering in these days preceding the winter solstice, assured of what is and what will be.

On this morning, Cooper takes us across the bridge and into the gazebo where I am to sit while he roams but not far. If we make it to the gazebo, we stay longer, especially if I have brought the camera. From Cooper’s perspective, the camera keeps me occupied with the colors of the day as he seeks the scents.

In the winter, the geese return to Florida and Waverly pond is a favorite. This year, a pair of wood storks visited one morning; a crane, possibly a sand hill, also stayed for a few days. It was a wet year for Waverly and the pond offers much to its residents as well as travelers.KMHuberimage; Great Blue Heron

In the last three weeks, a Great Blue Heron has come to stay as has a snowy egret, which Wikipedia says is a white heron. There was a time when I thought such distinctions important but now I’m happy just to see them. Cooper is a Beagle and other kinds of hounds–I am German, Russian and French at least—waterfowl, canine and human are simply living out who and what they are in the shadows of the winter solstice.

Even as I attempt to photograph the images of the egret and the heron, I am only able to capture their mirror images softened in the morning mist, their clarity beyond my lens, more a painting than a snapshot. In my autumn years, my focus blurs distinctions in any species.

KMHuberImage; Snowy EgretOn another morning, one when Cooper and I do not cross the bridge to the gazebo, we watch an anhinga drying its feathers on turtle row. Outside the gazebo, Cooper and I are more observable–I like to think that our daily presence makes us a known scent but that is human silliness—Cooper keeps us at what seems an agreeable distance, much more interested in trees and shrubs than the water or fowl.

I watch him more than he realizes. Every time, I am glad that we are at Waverly on this day and that he is engaging with every scent he can find and even in winter, there are many. I do my best to stay as present as Cooper for far too easily my mind wanders to spring and whether or not Cooper will be with me at Waverly, gazebo or no.KMHuberImage

He is twelve in human years and increasingly, there are recurrent bouts of colitis, gastritis. We work with his diet but he pays it less mind than I. In the winter of his life, Cooper is ever present, reminding me a walk around Waverly provides another perspective on whatever is. No matter how many mornings we have, we are always changed.