Heartlights of Hope in the Darkness

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Marshmallows toasted over a roaring bonfire

Where does your glow come from?

We are now engulfed in the heart of winter.  The holiday season is winding down and the coldest days of the season are still before us. No matter where we live, the dark hours of the night still seem much longer than those of daylight.  What makes this season of cold and dark bearable for you?  How do you satisfy your longing for warmth and light?

We need the shadow play of dark and light that winter brings.  Only on the darkest nights do the lights on trees, bushes, yards and porches shine brighter.  The darkness commands us to slow down, bundle up, and face the blustery side of nature.  The time we spend inside gives us the opportunity to think about what we want to make happen in the new calendar year. The longer shadows help us focus our thoughts toward our center.  The light of candles is softer than electric illumination, and fits the reflective mood of the winter months.  One of the first things I do each day in December is to plug in the lights of our Christmas tree. As evening approaches, I light candles on safe surfaces.  The play of shadow and light that they create invites us into a spirit of mystery and anticipation.

Bonfires and Holiday Lights

I am fortunate to live in Central Massachusetts.  I live in an intentional community full of neighbors who love to gather around the hearth.  When the night sky is crisp and clear with starlight, we sometimes stoke bonfires in the bowl pit and roast marshmallows.  Neighbors also string lights on their porches and doors in anticipation of the holiday season.  Those lights bring cheer and inspire me to spend more time walking around outside before I curl up under a pile of blankets inside.

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Neighbor’s door decorated for the holidays

Walking around our co-housing village this time of year is a magical time. My daily goal of 10,000 steps is more easily realized while walking the footpaths close to home.  I often greet neighbors who are also walking about and wave to children playing.  At dusk, the lights strung on porches and in doorways begin to sparkle brightly against the approaching nightfall.  They are beacons of hope and warmth when the wind picks up and the chill begins to freeze my limbs.  Yet, there are also fields nearby to step away into the darkness and appreciate the starlight of the winter constellations.

When I walk, my first destination is usually our community labyrinth on the other end of our village.  It is a wonder-filled place to walk and reflect.  It’s Baltic Wheel design and natural setting inspires moments of stillness and appreciation for nature’s wisdom.  The deep, dark colors of our conifers stand out as snow laces their branches and shrouds the earth around their roots.

snowy-labyrinth

Winter Garden Wonder

Another place quite close to us that we love to visit is Tower Hill Botanical Garden.  It was established in 1986 by the Worcester Horticultural Society and hosts a wide variety of programs for members and guests to forge a deeper kinship with nature.  The garden is a magical place all year round, in all seasons, but especially when it is lit up with many lights during the site’s Winter Re-Imagined festival.  Their outside and inside exhibits delight visitors of all ages.  I spent 2 evenings this month volunteering there and plan to return soon.

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Courtyard lit up during Winter Re-Imagined at Tower Hill Botanical Garden, Boylston, MA

Happy New Year

May all of your days in 2017 be filled with love, hope, and cheer.  May the warmth of holiday lights remind you that you are not alone, that no matter where you are you are thought of fondly.  May the spring bring warmer days to accomplish outside tasks and the summer shine on an abundant garden harvest.  May all of your dearest dreams come true!

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A Fond Farewell to Autumn Leaves

As Autumn wanes and we await winter’s cold and snow, I bid a fond farewell to the colorful leaves that have graced my days the past couple of months.

September escaped my grasp and I have nearly allowed October to run away from me, too, as I have spent these past couple of months walking wooded paths and enjoying the glory of Autumn in New England.

As September glided into October, my family and I spent a weekend exploring Acadia National Park in Maine, one of the first parks in our national system founded a hundred years ago.  The flora, fauna, and geological diversity at the site captured our interests and imagination.  We were also treated to an early foliage peaking as the state of Maine is very close to Canada, and very close to the top of our continent. Brrr.

During the month of October, we have enjoyed the peak foliage season closer to home.  I have reveled in the glow of warm colors in the leaves as I walked our wooded labyrinth, took an art class around drawing fallen leaves with colored pencils at our local botanical garden, and watched my daughter jump into fluffy, fragrant piles.  Together we love to throw armfuls of leaves into the air and stand in the middle of their showering over our heads.

We have seen more rain fall from the sky this fall than we had all summer. The first frost bit our pole bean bushes and snap pea vines.  I am grateful for the kale that still grows and the butternut squash continuing to ripen in our pantry.  The beets still have some time before they are full grown and are hardier, so I have left them in the bed for now, and planted garlic bulbs for next year’s summer harvest.

As more colorful leaves begin to carpet the grass than flutter from the branches of trees, I extend my best wishes to you for a cozy and productive winter.  The world is ready to rest.  I am ready to spend more time indoors than outdoors.  As Garrison Keillor used to say at the end of his Prairie Home Companion show every week ~ “be well, do good work and keep in touch.”

Light in Absence, A New Family Tradition

Light in Absence

A Beacon When One Sails Away

My family has recently instituted a new tradition.  Each time a member of our small nuclear family is away for any length of time, we light a candle at the family member’s place at the table while we eat our meals during their absence.

When I was in San Francisco for five days in February, my husband and daughter lit a candle at my place.  My daughter and I lit a candle at my husband’s place while he was in Ohio for five days in June.  My husband and I lit a candle at my daughter’s place while she was sleeping over at a friend’s house this past weekend.  When we are sharing a meal together, with everyone present, the lit candle occupies the center of the table between the three of us.  When we have guests eating with us, especially friends, a candle is lit at the center to represent the spirit of fellowship that brings us together.

Aerial View of Candlelit table set for 6

What Does the Light Do?

Why do we do this?  I believe that we light a candle to remind us of the spirit that unites us as one whether we are in the same room or far away.  If we are separated, we light the candle to support the absent family member ‘s mission that has led them to a different place.  For me, it was training as a Labyrinth Walk Facilitator in San Francisco.  My husband was in Columbus, OH for the UU General Assembly.  For my daughter it meant engaging in a young person’s rite of passage. We acknowledge their absence from the table and extend thoughts of love, safety and happiness to him or her while the candle is lit.

When a family member is away from home, s/he is not only absent from sharing the meal on a physical level, s/he is also absent from any conversation that happens during the meal.  The family members keeping the candle at the individual’s place may think of what the absent member might contribute to the conversation they are having, which is often a fun exercise.

I would love to know if my readers have engaged in a similar family ritual.  How is it similar or how does it differ?

 

 

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