The Dark of December

The sun’s indifference and neglect in winter is very hard to take.

We are approaching Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It falls on December 21st, and when it finally arrives, I always feel like I’m coming up for air for the first time in months. It’s as if I’ve been walking through J.R.R. Tolkein’s Mirkwood in The Hobbit, and just as I am about to give up hope, I see light in the distance. I’m halfway there. I can do this.

If I can survive the fact that, here in the Pacific Northwest, the sun that day won’t come up until 7:54 am and will be back down at 4:20 pm, I can survive anything. I view that as a triumph.

And after that day, I have slightly longer days to look forward to. More room to breathe. Less time in front of my SAD light. Less time to feel sad. More hope.

I definitely feel an emotional difference with the seasons. It’s hard to take, being plunged into ever-increasing gloom, and having no real control over it. We are all enslaved by the sun, and its indifference and neglect in winter is a bit of a challenge. It’s hard not to take it personally.

But Spring is coming. Glorious, glorious spring! Enduring the dark winter makes me appreciate the rest of the year all the more.

I’ll leave you with this poem. It’s a life raft in the dark. All we have to do is hold on. Light will soon return.

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
– Oliver Hereford

On a Dark Trail

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Hooray for Summer Solstice!

When summer finally arrives, you can’t really blame Seattleites for getting a little crazy, can you?

When I lived in Florida, I didn’t pay much attention to summer solstice. It was just another long, hot day in what seemed like an unending series of long, hot days. But in the Pacific Northwest, when it rains more often than not, and when the winters are dark and cold and raw, you learn to appreciate the seasons. So when summer finally arrives, you can’t really blame Seattleites for getting a little crazy, can you?

This past Saturday I attended the Solstice Parade, which is part of the Fremont Fair in Seattle, and is rapidly becoming on of my very favorite PNW traditions. The very best part, in my opinion, is the mass of naked, body painted bicyclists that start the parade. I wrote about this amazing tradition last year, but this year it seemed like even more people participated. I’d guess that 700 naked people rolled past me.

To say that a parade like this would never, ever happen in conservative Florida is putting it mildly. And that, to me, makes it an even more joyous celebration. Summer! Freedom! Art! Self-Expression! Joy! And the absolute best way to start the season!

I am right where I need to be. Maybe one of these years I will be a participant instead of a spectator! Here are some of the best pictures I could find from my collection, which don’t (hopefully) have any shocking bits on display. Enjoy!

Check this out, y’all. I wrote a book!



The Fremont Solstice Parade

Yesterday I had the quintessential Seattle, Washington day. It was the kind of day that really highlighted the fact that I’m not in Jacksonville, Florida anymore, baby, and I’m sooooooo glad of it! I could never have had a day like this in Florida. Not in a million years.

It’s an annual tradition here, on the Saturday closest to the longest day of the year, that there is a parade that wends its way through the Fremont neighborhood. But this isn’t just any parade. This is the Pacific Northwest, after all! This is a parade in which hundreds of people ride bicycles, and are wearing nothing but body paint.

My friends Paula and Jackson and I were amazed at how creative people were. Naked tigers. Naked Wonder Women. Some people were just flat out naked. I swear I saw more nudity in the space of an hour than I had in the rest of my 52 years.

The artistry and the confidence and pure joy of these people was liberating to me. And I loved that these were everyday people, complete with beer guts and wrinkles and back hair and curves and scars and sags and pregnant bellies. I love that people brought their kids. I love that anyone could participate.

I just freakin’ love Seattle!

After the bicyclists came some amazing floats, including a few very unflattering Trump parodies, and several bands and drum corps dressed in beautifully outlandish costumes. There were also a couple miles of vendors, anything from food to jewelry to hippie clothes to art to face painting and henna tattoos. And best of all, in that crowd of thousands, it was a peaceful and loving atmosphere.

I’ll leave you with some of the photos my friend Paula and I took of the event, and I’ll say it again:


A book about gratitude is a gift that keeps on giving!

Danish Juleneg

I am proud of my Danish heritage, and now that I’ve moved to Seattle, I have a unique opportunity to learn more about it, and add more Danish traditions into my life. Seattle has a very big Nordic community, and even a Nordic Heritage Museum that has a Yulefest every year on the weekend before Thanksgiving.

I’ve decided to make Yulefest my new holiday tradition. I’ve done it two years running so far, and it always brings me back to my youth and memories of my grandmother. The food, the music, the decorations all cause a great deal of nostalgia in me. I really enjoy that feeling.

It was at Yulefest that I discovered a Danish tradition that I’d never heard of before: Juleneg, which means Christmas Sheaf. (In Norway it’s called Julenek, and in Sweden it’s Julkarve.) I suspect that this tradition dates back long before Christmas existed, as it’s rooted deeply in the rural farming communities of Scandanavia. It’s one of those rituals that relates to farming and good luck and abundant crops.

Throughout the region, on Christmas Eve at sundown (which is very close to the winter solstice, it must be pointed out), people will put out their last sheaf of grain from their harvest to feed the birds. It’s believed that taking care of the animals and spirits during the coldest, darkest days of winter will cause good luck and a bountiful harvest the following summer.

The Juleneg can be tied to pillars or fence posts, or hung in trees. It is said to be especially lucky if the birds flock to them even as you’re putting them up. I find this a delightful tradition, and hope to carry it on for years to come.

Happy holidays to all, no matter what your heritage may be. Peace on earth. Good will toward Men.

[Image credit:]
My very first Juleneg.

Happy Winter!

The term “solstice” always sets off a slight frisson in me. It evokes ancient rites and rituals, the customs of people we barely remember and are hard-pressed to comprehend. No matter what your spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, it’s hard to ignore the passage of time as indicated by the sun, our main purveyor of life.

Today marks the winter solstice, the longest night and the shortest day of the year. On this day I tend to entertain an irrational fear that the sun may decide not to come back to us after all. That would spell disaster. Come back sun! Please come back!

There is ample evidence that ancient peoples took this day very seriously as well.

The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, and during this time all societal norms and conventions were sidelined. People ran wild. Masters served their slaves. I love the thought of that on so many levels.

Even in modern times, Druids gather at Stonehenge, and the sunrise lines up perfectly with the principle arch. Meanwhile, in Chaco Canyon, thousands of miles away, two daggers of sunlight will exactly bracket a spiral that was etched on a stone wall on Fajada Butte by some long-forgotten hand. (Sadly the average person will never see this again, as it’s protected from tourism for fear the rocks will shift and destroy the phenomena.)

In many parts of the world, farmers chose this day to slaughter their livestock so as not to have to feed them through the long, dark winter.

In Scandanavia, this was the time to burn the yule log, while on the other side of the world, the Mayans engaged in the flying pole dance, and the Incas were honoring the sun god.

The winter solstice is a day of death and fear and celebration and renewed hope. It is the official start of the winter season. Be that as it may, I was already over this cold, raw weather a month ago. Wishing you the fortitude to make it ‘til spring!

Chaco Dagger
This beautiful light pattern in Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon only shows itself at winter solstice.

I’ve Got Your Number. Right Here.

Well, everyone, I’ve got sad news. Today is 12/12/12, and it’s the last day any of us will see a triple date like that in our lifetimes. How sad. I’m sure to some people it’s even very significant, perhaps life-threatening. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there is a doomsday cult out there somewhere huddled in a bunker, waiting for the rest of us to be charred to a crisp so they can take over.

Here’s the thing about dates, though: they’re created by humans. And there’s more than one calendar out there, some still in use, some not. There’s the Julian calendar, the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese calendar, the Hebrew calendar, the Hindu calendar, the Islamic calendar, the Roman calendar, several different Egyptian calendars, the Unix calendar, the Ethiopian calendar, the Thai Solar calendar, Buddhist calendar, and the Baha’i calendar, and heaven help us all, the Mayan calendar. Many cultures rely on more than one calendar at the same time.

To further complicate things, some cultures start the week with Sunday, others with Monday. And in some countries, people write their dates day/month/year, and in others it’s month/day/year. And don’t even get me started on holidays. Easter Sunday is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox. Before President Lincoln straightened us all out here in America, Thanksgiving was celebrated on any one of a variety of dates, depending upon the state in which you lived.

In most Western cultures, our year is based on the date of Jesus’ birth. The problem with that is no one knows precisely when he was born. We could very well be as much as 7 years off. And in ancient times, it was speculated that his birth month was January, March, April, May or November. We finally settled on December 25th as it coincides with the southern solstice.

The starting year in Japan is based on when the current emperor began his rule. So 2012, for them, is the 24th year of the Emperor Akihito. Although rarely used in these modern times, this year in China could be either 4649, 4709 or 4710.

And no system is perfect. We make leap year adjustments, and there’s even a leap second on the atomic clock. When we adjusted to the Gregorian Calendar in England and America in 1752, we lost 11 whole days, and there was actually rioting in the streets.

So next time someone panics like it’s Y2K, or if you’ve cancelled your manicure appointment because the Mayan calendar is coming to an end in 9 days, remember: it’s all relative. Personally, I don’t worry about it much, because I’m a Capricorn.

Incidentally, you can buy my 2013 fractal calendar here: