Tomorrow, we will have reached the Winter Solstice. Family from California are scheduled to arrive mid-day and we will do our customary walk out on the north end of the lake, looking for any light in the sky, on the year’s darkest day. There have been years we’ve ice skated, but the thunder which happened yesterday morning announced the warm over-riding air which has blocked the arctic front. But…who knows, like life itself, it could change in an instant. My favorite solstice poem is the one I’ve posted here several times through the years–Winter Sheep by Tom Hennen. I have three little woolen sheep figures, bought years ago from a local art cooperative. They were made with wool from sheep ranches in Idaho and I bring them out each winter to sit on a table in front of the dining room window. I’ve taken many photos of them with winter sunlight back-lighting their curly hair, and before I put them away in the drawer, they sit in the midst of a green shamrock plant in early March.
But–especially in these bleak times with so much bad news from far and near–there is something about the poem’s line, “In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were full of light gathered on summer pastures.” Reciting it in my head at 3 am can lull me back to sleep on these long dark winter nights, reminding me to look for the light in all the darkness.
Sheep in the Winter Night, by Tom Hennen
Inside the barn the sheep were standing, pushed close to one
another. Some were dozing, some had eyes wide open listening
in the dark. Some had no doubt heard of wolves. They looked
weary with all the burdens they had to carry, like being thought
of as stupid and cowardly, disliked by cowboys for the way they
eat grass about an inch into the dirt, the silly look they have
just after shearing, of being one of the symbols of the Christian
religion. In the darkness of the barn their woolly backs were
full of light gathered on summer pastures. Above them their
white breath was suspended, while far off in the pine woods,
night was deep in silence. The owl and rabbit were wondering,
along with the trees, if the air would soon fill with snowflakes,
but the power that moves through the world and makes our
hair stand on end was keeping the answer to itself.