On December 21, 2016, at 5:44 AM EST, the sun reached its southernmost extent in our sky, yielding the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
“Solstice” derives from the Latin “sol,” meaning sun, and “sistere,” meaning “to make stand.” A deceptively simple phenomenon, it belies a glorious contradiction: a solstice is at once a definitive moment in time, calculated to the minute; and proof positive of the fluidity of day and night, of the continuous and constant nature of change. It speaks of the universal virtue of balance—between night and day, darkness and light, rest and activity, introspection and social participation, all while reminding us of the coterminous nature of growth and decay.
This week I’ve been reading David Gessner’s Soaring With Fidel, an account of the author’s raptor-seeking quest along the Atlantic osprey migration corridor. Gessner’s previous text, Return of the Osprey, focused on the birds’ (and Gessner’s) nesting season, emphasizing the importance (to both mother birds and eager birdwatchers) of humility and patience. In Soaring With Fidel, by contrast, Gessner embraces the joy of flight and the freedom of movement, focusing on the birds’ annual 2,500-mile migration between summer and winter homes.
“My old question had been how to nest,” writes Gessner. “My new question was how to be at home in movement.”
I have long wrestled with these notions, held them in tension, embraced each one in turn. I’ve lived what felt like distinct, alternate chapters of incredible activity, then deep rest and recovery. But solstice reminds us, again and again, that stasis and movement are two faces of a coin. To go on a journey can look and feel like staying put; to dwell richly in place can yield countless adventures. Even at our most rooted, we are all travelers.
Writing the Wild wishes you a wild, humble Christmas, and many other holy days and nights.
Here, sage words from Southern writer and wilderness advocate Janisse Ray:
Riding Bareback Through the Universe
The earth does not move steadily,
spinning at one speed through the heavens,
but with the motion
of a wild stallion at full gallop
across a painted desert,
which is sweep and fall, sweep and fall.
The earth is waltzing.
Its cloud-tail streams behind like a comet’s.
Not only the earth. Every heavenly body
once thought steady, plodding even,
flings itself along with senseless joy.
In the sky an ecstasy of stars
stampedes through the universe.
You and I ride standing
on the back of earth,
feet firmly planted, side by side,
our love for this life
so thunderous and billowing
so wild and powerful
we finally understand celestial motion.
Around us thousands of leaves
leap up and down on their stems
and summer flowerheads
surge with the wind.