Solstice Cake

Happy Summer Solstice to the Northern Hemisphere. Today on Twitter, someone wrote that they were depressed about the state of the world, the way things are going, and not even chocolate cake could help.

Blossoming weeds grow up through last year’s leaves. Photo: PKR

It’s the longest day of the year (and shortest night), a good time to reflect on how life flows in a rhythm that has constant change and also a wealth of constants. Summer solstice is my favorite solstice when it comes to weather and general merriment, but my second favorite in terms of symbolism.

For as of today, no matter how green and blossoming and warm it might be (and today in my corner of eastern France, it is all those things, with birdsong and light breezes and a tree heavy with ripening cherries thrown in), from now on the days will shorten inexorably until late December and the next solstice. Summer is just beginning, and those lush trees and meadows are already holding the dried leaves of winter to come.

Some call them weeds, but they are verge survivors. Photo: PKR

And then, when the Winter Solstice (my favorite one) comes along and we are facing the prospect of dark mornings, early sunsets, and long chilly nights, there is the nascent seed of summer already there with the first day that is longer than the previous one. The promise of warmth at the other end of cold.

To my Twitter friend, I said we were in need of another kind of cake, another kind of comfort. So there’s this: The swing of the pendulum and the circling of the planet. The promise of constants and constant change.

The best part of this is, we can be that change, even as the days get shorter and the nights get longer. We can be getting ready for the next solstice when that process reverses.

The Jura Mountains during my morning run. Photo: PKR

Dawning Outlines

The sun rose on the shortest day of the year, drawing a bright line of light across the across the Alps. It’s easy today to focus on the longest night, the coming winter, the darkness of the months ahead.

But I am choosing to focus on that ribbon of sunshine.

Dawn over Mont Blanc, France. Photo: PKR

This is one of my favorite days of the year, a turning point when the days get longer even as temperatures drop.

Wishing one and all a solstice flooded with light, even if it’s only above the clouds.

Photo: PKR



Long Shadows, Long Light

We’ve had a break from all the clouds, torrential rain, intermittent hail and nights of snow – so I went for a run.

At this time of the year, the sun is low at 4:30 in the afternoon and sets only 20 minutes later. It casts long, reaching shadows from its last point of illumination above the ridge of the Jura range.

Barely nine hours of sunlight, the fingers of time drawing ever closer until they meet at the Northern Hemisphere winter solstice at 5:28 p.m. on Dec. 21.

The path behind.
Photo: PKR

It’s been a long year of upheaval, much of it political and environmental.

Some of it has been personal, though – breaking both wrists on a hike certainly put into perspective how much conscious effort the small things require when they are thrown into relief by not being able to do them on one’s own. Slicing bread, washing hair, turning a key in a lock, all the little things I take for granted on a daily basis. I am still relearning some basic movements, watching my limbs strain to regain their previous strength and flexibility after weeks of casts and months of recovery.

That sense of seeing the importance of the little things has taken place on a larger scale, as well. With forces around the world seeming to focus on many aspects of life we have taken for granted, sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

Photo: PKR

This final week before the solstice is always one of my favorite times of the year. The summer and autumnal marathon to ever-lengthening nights comes in to its final stretch, and I know the finish line is just up ahead. Soon, no matter how cold the winter, the days are going to get longer again. There will be more light to work by, and there is so much work to be done.

Meanwhile, this early evening path, just at the moment before the sun went down, reminds me that there is so much light in the space between the shadows.

The path ahead.
Photo: PKR




Summer’s Begun

I always greet this day with a bit of wistfulness. It’s the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere, the longest day of the year, and it also rings in the season of days that grow ever shorter.

It seems like a good day from which to look at the year thus far, and the rest of the year ahead.

Happy solstice!

The solstice running path.


Solstice Run

The snowy peak of Mont Blanc is between the two stands of trees, a sharp view my phone camera couldn't quite catch. But it caught my shadow catching the view.

The snowy peak of Mont Blanc is between the two stands of trees, a sharp view my phone camera couldn’t quite catch. But it caught my shadow catching the view.

A stunning summer solstice day, some of it spent in the garden staking up tomatoes and peas, some of it spent sitting together, some of it spent in blissful afternoon napping. And some of it spent on a good 7 km run.

Another minute further down the road, facing in the other direction: Solstice sunset over the Jura range.

Another minute further down the road, facing in the other direction: Solstice sunset over the Jura range.

The summer solstice is a bittersweet pleasure. The beginning of summer; when the first day of summer is as glorious as today’s was, it’s hard to feel anything but grateful.

On the other hand, it’s the annual milestone, the shortening of days all the way until winter. Anything we haven’t yet planted might not have time to come to fruition before the next big chill.

Still, when out on a run and confronted by this path ahead, even the big chill can look inviting.

Mont Blanc on the other side of Lake Geneva, still bright in the setting sun.

Mont Blanc like a cloud rising on the other side of Lake Geneva, still bright in the setting sun.

Solstice Unspools

Another winter unspools

Winter’s coil

Welcome Winter Solstice 2013. Last year I was relieved that the Mayan End of Days turned into just another day; this year, I’m relieved that the icy grip of early winter thawed for long enough to do some end of year, last-minute garden work.

We’ve been keeping ourselves warm with our Whisky Advent Calendar, and there are a couple of standouts thus far. Both of them are Speyside single malts.

One is the Balvenie 14 Year Old Caribbean Cask, which is aged in oak casks for fourteen years before being transferred to rum casks for a finishing touch. Very smooth and rich in caramel and vanilla notes, it also carries a swingy basket of exotic fruit – mango, nectarine.

The other current favorite was a discovery for me, a Tomintoul 14 Year Old. It had a creamy, almost buttery taste, like an almond croissant, with a bit of apple and orange. It also seems to be a good value for its reasonable price.

Mistletoe hangs in a tree near our house

Mistletoe hangs in a tree near our house

I’m ready – well, as ready as I’ll ever be – for the snow to pile up.

Better, I’m ready for my favorite part of the winter solstice, the lengthening of days, the shortening of nights.

That said, now that the fog of the last couple of weeks has lifted, it’s almost ungrateful to wish for shorter nights, as the clear sky has been an indigo veil cast with countless gems and the crown jewel of the Full Cold Moon.

A little moon music to warm the coming winter nights.

Cosmic Dawn, Winter Solstice, End of Days, etc.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

At the long-heralded End of Days for the Mayan calendar, it’s a relief to see that the good old first day of winter dawned after all.

Not only that, it’s the earliest first day of winter since 1896. If one is permitted a favorite when it comes to milestones in our planetary spin around the sun, I’d have to say mine is the winter solstice. While the summer solstice is easy to love – those long sunny days! the short span of darkness! – it also portends the shortening of days, the inevitable roll down the hill into falling leaves, then rain, then snow, and the knowledge that no matter how warm the grass under your feet while you’re dancing, winter is on the march.

Winter solstice is, of course, the opposite. The leaves are off the trees, snow is on the ground (at least where we live), the garden is usually frozen and summer is already a fading memory. Winter is on the doorstep or maybe already peeking an icicled beard inside. And then the solstice – the worst may not be past but this is the shortest day, and spring awaits. the summer – like the dawn above – is on the horizon, however distant.

So, thank you, winter solstice, for showing up so splendidly over the Alps this morning!