Light and promise and hope 12/21/2021

Quick things:


Happy solstice!

Today is the darkest day of the year (the nearly full moon not withstanding), but it brings with it the promise of greater light.

It is nature’s death and rebirth wrapped into one day. It is, if you map the year against the arc of a sweeping epic narrative, our hero’s journey to the underworld.

You know what I’m talking about, right? My college advisor Dr Pam Regis taught us that the universal formula for an epic (aka Joseph Campbell’s monomyth) – conflict, adventure, journey to the underworld, redemption, resolution – can be seen not just in the classic (and modern) epic, but is mirrored in the romantic narrative – it can be seen in Pride and Prejudice as well as it can in Gilgamesh or Lord of the Rings. The journey into darkness is part of the narrative that forms many of the great stories we use to imbue meaning in our world and lives.

Where the literal and the literary worlds diverge is in their tidiness, in their knowability and predictability. Always, when things are at their worst they must, by definition, get better – but in this literal real world, we can’t know if things are at their worst or just their worst yet.

And what does “worst” even mean? Is it objective or relative, and across how many variables are we defining it? There is always more to the story than is captured in narrative.

In the seasons, though we may not know what each day will bring, we can find some certainty. We can know that today is the shortest, darkest (by some definition) day of the year. We can know that while the clouds and the phases of the moon may make our journey seem non-linear, the trend, for the next six months, will be towards greater light.

Anchor points are important, I think, in mooring us to our lives and in this world. We, as a species, don’t do so well when everything feels unpredictable or out of our control. We create our own anchor points – family, work, religion, even small rituals we bring with us from day to day or year to year to help us mark time and to give our lives meaning and shape.

These personal anchors are important. They are part of what makes my life and self look different from yours. But they are also uncertain. They are often intangible or subject to interpretation. And sometimes these anchors are swept away by global events or by personal shifts or by locally shifting sands.

I am one for personal ritual and for the temporal anchoring of my life to birthdays and anniversaries that are personal to my life or the ones I love, but I also find great comfort in anchoring to the seasons, which do not care about me, but also exist separate – objectively separate – from my beliefs and feelings and circumstances. Even if the earth’s orbit shifts, it is unlikely to do so noticeably in the course of my lifetime.

During times when my life feels stable, predictable, safely moored to the values and trappings personal to me, this impersonal anchoring exists only vaguely and in the background. When things feel a little more uncertain, it takes on a greater importance.

Anchoring ourselves to the personally worldly can, I think, be a little dangerous. It leaves us vulnerable, in ways that are both beautiful and scary. If we make all of our lives about our lives, what happens to us when something changes?

In meditation the breath often serves as an anchor to the present. I use the Calm app to help me fall asleep at night (and sometimes during the day!), and many of the guided sessions begin with, “Become aware of your breath. You don’t need to change your breath in any way, just be aware that you are breathing.”

I can’t change the seasons in any way, but I can be aware that they are there, and that even as they are changing they can be an anchor in my life that is as constant and as comforting as my own breath.

Not my chorizo tacos of last night, but from recently — Midst8 tortillas, Rettland chorizo, our own curtido-style kraut, Camelot Valley feta, and local scallions. I think it looks like Christmas. 🙂

I’m not going to pretend that I take most of my meals spiritually – last night’s chorizo tacos with match-sticked radishes and thinly sliced scallions were very much of the body and very much consumed mindlessly in front of the TV – but I do find that eating seasonally is one of the things that keeps me anchored to this constant cycle – one of the things that brings me comfort when things are uncomfortable or hard or even scary.

And when things are good, too, anchoring to this one continuous life, to this one continuous orbit, can play a meaningful role in my celebration of what is, what has been, what will be.

I like the summer solstice. I like the light and the easy celebration of life and of bounty. But winter is always harder for me, and so perhaps for this reason the winter solstice (today!) becomes a more meaningful and important anchor point. It is more important to me, this time of year, to find things to celebrate – even when, or especially when, it feels hardest.

From a seasonal eating perspective, of course, it is also a little harder, or at least a little less obvious, given that so much of what is available to us in the grocery store is basically aseasonal – exists without season, or separated from its season. If we do choose to ground our eating in seasonality, much of what we have to choose from this time of year – sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, and alliums – was harvested before the ground froze, and will carry us through to the thaw.

We eat more meat – a pastured animal requires more supplemental feed in the winter, and is less likely to thrive – so we harvest them while they are still fat and before the grasses have died back or are covered in snow.

Thanks to the resources of modernity, we can continue to have greens raised in protective high tunnels and mushrooms from indoor growing rooms. We have refrigeration and freezers to extend the storage season of our fall harvest.

Yet even with our great resources and the benefit of all of modernity-to-now, we are limited in what we can do right here and right now.

And maybe if there’s anything I’m feeling especially right now, as we celebrate the darkest day, the promised return of the light, the end of one year, and the beginning of another, it’s the dichotomy of the limitless/limited nature of our lives.

I’m waxing philosophical and I’m all up in my own head, and this is really supposed to be a marketing piece but I’m not sure quite how to close that loop, and I’m pretty uncomfortable even trying at this point. And I’m also way over the time I’d allotted for writing today’s newsletter.

So, um, thanks for reading, for spending the last year with us, and for participating, in whatever way you do, in this experiment in rooting ourselves, in whatever small way, to the here and now, despite the nearly limitless options in front of us.

Thank you for the seemingly limitless support you’ve offered us, in your words, your dollars, and your smiles.

Thanks for being part of our light.

And whatever your celebration of light and promise and hope looks like this winter – I hope it’s a grand one.

❤ Julia