It’s been quite a year.
Fires in North America, South America, Australia. Earthquakes in the Middle East. Tornado outbreaks, and a wall of wind across the Midwest. The Atlantic hurricane season that wouldn’t quit. Locusts in Africa. Final numbers aren’t in, but this may be the hottest year on record – the other contender being the previous election year.
Ah, yes, politics. The fear that if the other side wins, they’ll do unto us what we’ve been doing unto them. A UK that wants to leave Europe but keep their room. A Middle East that boils, bleeds, and literally explodes. A US where protests against violence are met with violence, a wannabe dictator rails against the rules of order when they don’t work for him, and a face mask (or lack thereof) is seen as ideological gang colors.
And the big story is the greatest pandemic in a century. Aided by a populace trained to distrust any inconvenient recommendations from scientists, this particularly virulent virus has killed over a million and a half people around the globe – including some 313,000 in the United States since February. I work with people who think the “China Virus” is a political stunt, and refuse to wear masks. I know hospital workers who have been in crisis mode for months, trying to keep the careless, the unlucky and the nonbelieving from drowning in their own fluids.
While all the humans strut and fret our hour upon the stage, fighting grand battles for the hyperbolic cause du jour, nature progresses on its own cycles. Foliage colors and falls. Frost rims the dried leaves. And the sun’s daily arc dips a little closer to the southern horizon with each pass, unregarded by most. In a couple of days, the sun’s apparent southward journey halts, as it has at this point in the planet’s revolution around the sun since before there was anything alive on this rock to notice. There’s no way to know when our ancestors first noted the daystar’s annual wander north-to-south and back again, or what significance they attached to that drifting. There are archeological clues of stone-age observances on several continents, but what it meant to the people when the sun finally stood still (solstice being the Latin term meaning “sun standing”) may never be revealed.
A natural cycles go, the winter solstice is as good a time as any to mark the turning of the year. The cultural end of the year is marked on the 31st. The 10 days (give or take, depending on the year) in-between are a liminal time – a threshold from an end to a new beginning, and not quite “normal” time. Everyone is poised for Christmas, then having Christmas; they stay buoyed until New Years’ Eve, and start coming down on the first of January. January 2nd is a time of forgetting resolutions, paying holiday bills, writing the wrong dates on documents, and looking towards a distant spring. I consider that whole ten-day span of time as the ending of the year, like a held breath before the plunge.
Take some time during this drawn out space between years. See how the natural world deals with this time of year; how do people acknowledge or work around the state of the environment at this time?