At the Winter Solstice, especially in the late afternoon, I notice how the shadows lengthen and stretch much farther than during the spring or summer. It is the time when the shadows are long and come early in the day. Being a traveler and paying attention, I want to honor the season.
I was born during the season of Long Shadows when the earth tilts in just such a way that the light touches it differently than when the Desert Sun blazes directly overhead. I rejoice when the shadows are long in the mornings and linger in the afternoons. It is a time of mystery and quiet when all creation seems to be waiting. We do not seek out the shade at this time of year as a place of cool and rest. Rather, the invitation to lay down our burden and gather our strength is all around us. The growing sun of summer has spent its power and now it seems weaker, perhaps weary after traveling so far for such a long time. Long Shadows is the time of rest, healing, celebration, gifts, and a time to remember journeys.
In the season of Long Shadows, light completes its long journey and comes to rest at ease on treetops, tips of cacti, and edges of buildings quietly laying a gossamer brocade of light across the land. It is an easy light, one meant to cool the heat of summer and invite the earth and all of us who inhabit it to relax our intensity and slumber longer to become refreshed. The growing sun will return shortly and after this time of rest animate and inanimate creatures will be ready to receive its life giving warmth. Long Shadows time is a clear light, without summer radiance, offering us the adventure of seeing our world in a new light.
It wasn’t many years past that people the world over had celebrated the time of Long Shadows as the time when the work of harvesting was finished, and celebrations marked an ending rather than a beginning. It was the time of resting after all the hard work of fertility’s culmination. The light is almost to be tasted rather than felt just as people tasted the harvests they had labored throughout the year to perfect and revel in the colors.
I recall the season of Long Shadows as the time when people decorate their worlds and themselves in colors that have lain hidden during the year. We are graced with the golden glow of the moon, appearing larger than at any other time of the year, reminding us of the beauty of this heavenly light that many ancient people admired and honored for her feminine associations. The moon’s gold is reflected in golden leaves and yellow grass. The sunlight’s red hue lingers on mountains and clothes berries and an occasional redbird. Those flashes of light, tiny hummingbirds return to remind us of fleeting time and the beauty that is there to surprise us with its sudden charisma, like a gift found under a tree dedicated to the season in our homes.
It is a time for staying close to home. This is the time for long evenings with family and friends telling stories of events long past but lovingly recalled on nights like these, and tales of people who left their marks on our souls. It is a time for stories; a time for laughing and crying, for being inspired by the tales of heroes and heroines away on long journeys discovering mysterious lands and returning to see their joy reflected in the eyes of children and adults alike. It is the time when the First Americans drew the drum beat rhythm of the earth’s heart from deep within, and sang their people into existence. Stories are the lifeblood of the time of Long Shadows, and all of nature attends in respectful silence.
Nature rests, at least on the surface. But trees, bushes, and cacti are busy at their roots. Activity does not cease, only changes to building the foundation anew, making the sleeping world above ground stronger by looking after the roots.
We spend more time at home, similar to kings and queens in their castles planning their seasonal largesse for families and friends. We turn our attention to all that we have and have been given this year and beyond. We consider our place among all people and what our role is in regards to others. We consider how we are connected to others and we think fondly of them. Like our ancestors, the kings and queens, we salute those who make our lives full. We prepare and give gifts because our lives are enriched, and we honor those who have brought joy and sweetness into our worlds.
Long Shadows is a time of gentleness. Most of the stories we tell and listen to many times over are tales of love. Little children receive special attention. We enjoy stories of grouchy old men, who were probably grouchy young men, but there has been a quickening of their hearts and they become generous and compassionate, returning love for all the years when they had been scorned for their arrogance. Surely this is a story of turning and redemption.
We are invited to turn inside when the shadows are long. I look forward to remaining inside my home, but more so I take time to be with myself and reflect on the meaning my life has in this galaxy lit by the mighty sun. During the months preceding Long Shadows, we are driven by time – its slaves you might say – working under its whip to accomplish what has to be completed within its short span. Now we take time. It’s ours to spell out a few hours or a few days as we wish. As the shadows lengthen, the roles reverse and we are the master of our time. We begin to think about and talk about what is important to all beings: the welfare of our family, eternity, how others are faring in the difficult times and giving thanks. The careers and tasks we tended, just as the old ones tilled the land so diligently that now idles quietly as we dig deeply inside ourselves and we find that we are thinking of others. No question is left unanswered, no dilemma unresolved. We have turned our sights to the heavens and find there the optimism to see that all things will turn out right. We sing songs of joy and gladness. This is the mystery of the time of Long Shadows.
Music belongs to this time. Music warms the cold and lifts the spirit to search the sky and see wonders, perhaps even miracles, and to interpret signs that others may see only as stars. The heavens sing with a choir as vast and mysterious as the universe, and a smile lifts the corners of the mouth as our hearts are drawn to connect to what is our past and what lies in our future.Later, when I left the farm to follow the gypsy’s siren call, I learned that there is a theme that runs through much of the world’s spiritual literature. These are the writings that create us, heal us, make us noble, nourish our souls, and fill us with gratitude. The writings tell us that we become what we are destined to be when we seek knowledge of what is true within us and courageously act upon that knowledge. People who follow this path have become our heroes and our saints. Some were thought the be mad, but what others thought of them mattered less than the drive within that propelled them onward, sometimes against their will. They may have chosen an easier way had that been possible, but they listened to the voice within and found the strength to fulfill their destiny.
When I was a boy, before I knew that I would never know all there is to know, I would look down those long rows waiting to be planted next Spring thinking that I would somehow walk into my future, as through a doorway. From time to time I gained a glimpse of what my future might be, filled with hopes and dreams. Now, years later, I look back at my trying to see what I would do and where I would be, and say to myself, “Yes, that’s what I thought. But it really isn’t what happened at all.”
The season of Long Shadows moves on and the sun will return to its place overhead, but not for long. Soon that season begins to wane and shadows lengthen once more. We have more stories to tell, and more experience to share. The wheel of nature turns, and that is what I have learned will happen and as I pay attention to my life lengthening like the shadows, peace settles and I give thanks.