Here in the Willamette Valley, the entire planet balances on the point of fir trees for the two weeks around the Winter Solstice. The sun rises a little before 8 a.m. and is down again by 4:15 p.m. It often does not even appear, but remains buried in layers of cloud and fog. The world is dark and dank. Nothing moves.
The gardens are all asleep, tucked up under piles of leaves and cold frames. A few hardy collard and kale plants provide greens; the parsnips, leeks, and beets wait for harvest; the garlic and overwintering onions put down deep roots. A few cabbages loiter in the fields, waiting to be harvested for coleslaw and gratins. Nothing grows. There is not enough light. One or two garden catalogs appear in the mail, but I tuck them away for the seed orgy of New Year’s Day. Trees do not need to be prune. All of the possible repairs and changes have been made for the season. The gardens pause and balance, waiting for the light.
The pantry is full. All of the summer fruits have been canned or dried or jammed; the storage onions and squashes are in the larder; wheat and oatmeal fill the metal tins. Eating is good in December. Even if the leafy greens are nipped back by a heavy frost, there is a wide variety of food for dinner. Meal planning is quick; I do not have to discover four dinners around mustard greens and old potatoes. We buy little treats for the holidays — fruitcakes and cookies, long-distance cheeses and spreads. We revel in the variety of food the earth has provided, and spend long winter nights by the fire, waiting for the warmth to return to our northern world.
The woods and fields are quiet. With no long project lists hanging over us, we head for the hills that surround us. The woodland juncos and the field robins have moved into town for the winter and poke around in the back yard, looking for lunch. Douglas firs stand tall against the clouds when we walk the old logging roads. The swamp maple and alder leaves tangle in the blackberry vines in the valleys. For a few weeks, the only thing that grows is the moss on the trees. We watch for the blooming hazelnut catkins, the first food for the bees in the backyard.
Our world turns inward for a few weeks. We pause — the gardens, our lives, the woods and farmlands that surround our home. Nothing will grow until the sun tips and turns back towards us. And so, we wait.
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