Monthly Archives: November 2011

From Samhain to Solstice

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It feels like it’s time to take down the Day of the Dead altar. I am not aware of any hard and fast rule about this, but just last night as I added more wood to the fire and glanced up at the mantle, I had the distinct impression that things had to change.

The novenas that Deborah made need to be put away, those with pictures of George Carlin and Abbie Hoffman packed side by side with the ones honoring my father and uncle. The ancestor shrine I constructed from bits and pieces of Raven Moonshadow’s belongings will be as well, along with pictures of my beloved nephew Alex, my old boyfriend Steve, my good friend Barbara, and so many others.

Maybe there is no clear dividing line in home decor, when the colors of Samhain pass away and those of Winter Solstice deck the halls. Maybe I am simply reacting against the emotional burden of having my nephew’s picture prominent in the living room, a daily reminder that I will no longer see him change and grow with the seasons. Maybe I need to bring my thoughts back to the living: my niece’s baby who has had a tumultuous year; my daughter the newly-minted college freshman; my ailing mother.

Whatever the reason, I find myself looking forward to decorating with colored lights, bringing in fragrant fir boughs and branches of bright red berries, laying out a runner of rich jewel tones across the dining room table. This will not be a year when I procrastinate and keep the house bare until minutes before the Solstice. I may even get out the colored lights to hang the moment I return from Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow in Oakland.

I have written before about the evocative beauty of the winter sky here on the coast. The night is an echo chamber for the sea, carrying the thundering sound of surf and a fine salty mist over the dunes and into the village. It is a stillness that quivers with moisture, a silence that cradles sound.

For the last six years, this vast hall of night has cradled me as well. I love it here more than anywhere else I have ever lived, particularly in the winter months. I love how we can see the storms swirl in from across the Pacific, and how we are also the first ones in the sun after the storms have passed. I see the light break through low on the horizon well before the rain stops, and hours before those living inland ever feel its rays.

My friends have been taking turns this fall, gingerly asking me how I’m coping with an empty nest. I hope they are surprised rather than alarmed when I break out into a wide grin and tell them I love it. Emptiness does not equal sadness to me but rather spaciousness, clarity, calm. I love my children fiercely, look forward to their visits, and thoroughly enjoy them while they’re here. And then they leave, the house reverts to stillness, and I can see again the headlands to the west, the crisp blue outline of Pt. Reyes to the south, and above and all around me, the endless sky.