Monday, January 16, 2012

Winter Light

I find myself almost incredulous at how deep a vein of contentment I can find in a single afternoon at home.

I love my home: my house, my garden, my woods.  I've understood for many years that buying stuff, things, doesn't actually build much contentment once I'm not in need.  I'll think, when I contemplate buying a new whatzit, that once I have that whatzit I'll be happy; I envision all the good and satisfying things I will be able to accomplish once I have my whatzit.  And, of course, once I have purchased it, brought it home, and unpacked it, it's only a matter of days or weeks before I'm no happier in my daily round than before I got hold of it.

This house has not been like that for me.  It's actually pretty rare that I come home without thinking, as I walk up to my door, open it, and slip inside, "I really love this house."

I think that is because a house, like land, is not really a thing at all.  Properly considered, we don't own either one: we enter relationships with them.  In the case of land, of course, there is the web of interdependent living things that is already there, from grass and the microorganisms and worms and grubs that live in soil to the trees, voles, mice, birds, and larger mammals that live in or move across that particular place.

Houses have some of that--more than a fastidious housekeeper would like, perhaps!--but there is something else that gives rise to the numen, the spirit of place that enlivens a house.  It may be the lives that have passed through the house over the years, or that have shaped its parts--trees for wood, glacier-rounded rocks for the foundations, and so forth.  Some houses seem to have more of that particularity of self than others; I'm sure it was one of the things that made us fall in love with the house before we bought it.

Another thing, however, was the light.

We had been living in a very nice, if shabby, Victorian duplex.  Lots of dark woodwork, nooks and crannies and a porch that was up in the treetops on the second floor.  But few of the windows faced south, and no room had more than two medium-sized windows.  Not only was the view of a densely settled urban street, but it was a dark view, from dark rooms.   Nothing we did could ever change that.

This year, I have been more aware than ever of the changes of light that come with winter.  It is hard to describe, but the shortened days of December left me without energy, worn out and weary by four, and exhausted and listless each morning when I rose in the dark to bolt my breakfast and head out to school.  I was leaving for work in the dark, and returning from work in the dark.  It was too dark to walk in the woods after work, and, with no snow to speak of this year, it was hard to avoid noticing how weak as well as brief the light of each day was, even when we were home.  I was not depressed--that is, I knew perfectly well that there was no especially discouraging thing in my life last month--and yet, my body was depressed: lethargic, irritable, sleepy.

We put up lights.  This year, for the first time, we were able to carve out a little time in our solstice preparations to consider decorations particular to this new house of ours, and we got strings of white icicle lights to go into the big, south facing front windows.  I began turning them on in the morning before sitting down for five minutes' breakfast, and my husband made a point of turning them on again as soon as he got home from work, so I would find them shining softly in the dark when I came home.

Those lights helped.  They really did.  It's not for nothing we decorate our homes with lights at Solstice.

But now the days are ever so slightly longer, the sun every so slightly higher in the sky at noon than it was three weeks ago.

And it has snowed--snowed, gotten warm, and then given us a hard, sub-zero freeze that has set up an enormous white reflecting mirror on the ground all around us.  Now there is light: light worth basking in, in our big, shabby living room with the wide southern windows.  Light I can steep in, when I'm home for lunch, in our cozy cube of a dining room, with enormous southern windows of its own.

I can look out my windows, from the comfort of my rocking chair or my couch, and see the woods with the tree bark painted orange in the light.  I can look up, and see the sky burnished an almost metallic blue--the blue of the winter sky.

On weekdays, I still have very little light while I am at home.  But moonlight or starlight, whatever light there is is picked up by the whiteness of snow and amplified.  I can walk in my woods at night, in a way I cannot do at any other time of year.  Indeed, the leafless trees open out the woods in such a way that I can see much, much deeper into those woods than at any other time of year.  Come summer, the seemingly infinite succession of tree trunk and tree trunk, receding off into the distances of perspective will vanish for me, cut off by a wall of green.  But in winter, my views are wide and deep.

And full of yellow light.

And so I find myself contented again, bodily depression lifting, opening myself like a flower to the glory of the return of winter light.

7 comments:

PaganChaplain said...

Delicious!

Ali said...

Oh, Cat! This post makes me miss you so much!

I am so glad you have light! I know exactly what you mean about the cluttered views from dark rooms. That very much describes our current apartment - most of our windows face north, and some of the rooms don't even have any windows at all! My favorite window is the one in our study upstairs. It looks out onto the brick wall of the neighbor's house only a couple yards away - but that alley is just wide enough to allow a little glimpse of sky. In the mornings, the sun rises above the brick wall and falls down across the desk. And in the evenings, the light of the sunset turns the entire brick wall to a gorgeous thick honey-rose color.

Now we're moving to Seattle - and we've put a deposit down on a place that has huge south-east facing windows that dominate the living room. I'm kind of really excited about that. :)

Peter M said...

A really lovely post. I like how you say we don't really own houses. So true! We're just passing through them.

Bright Crow said...

Thanks, Cat. You speak my mind on this.

You write: "...a house, like land, is not really a thing at all. Properly considered, we don't own either one: we enter relationships with them."

I've just finished John Dominic Crossan's The Greatest Prayer, his reinterpretation of the Lord's Prayer (the "Our Father...") from the perspective of his "historical Jesus" research.

Crossan prefers "Householder" to "Father." A core value of biblical Hebrew cultures was being a fair, responsible householder, and God was viewed as the Divine Householder.

That notion and your words resonate with each other.

Blessed Be,
Michael

Bright Crow said...

Cat,

What I left out of my post above:

The reason Crossan emphasizes "householder" as his term for the divine is precisely because Yeshua (Jesus) was intent upon practicing and modeling the relationship which Creator and Creation have.

The biblical Hebrew challenge to human being is the be the image of Mother-Father God as householder and steward of the earth.

And so it is.

Blessed Be,
Michael

Cat C-B said...

Ali--I'm glad you have light in your new home. I'm going to hope it lends just as much of feeling of contentment to your hours at home as our light does for me.

Bright Crow, you remind me of the etymology of the word, "Lord," which I learned back when I was misspending my youth as an English major... That the Old English origin of the word is from hlaford, meaning something like, "loaf-giver." ("Lady" has a similar origin.)

So the emphasis, to those Old English speakers who found ways of translating the terminology for the Christian God, was on one who provided very basic and humble things--household things--just as in your description.

Relationship--humble, real, and familial--is certainly closer to how I experience the Holy in my life, than the usual modern notions about dominion and grandeur.

Bright Crow said...

Oh, Cat! Thanks for reminding me about the "loaf-giver" etymology for "lord" and "lady."

When I was in high school--way back in ancient history--I read a book on the history of the English language which convinced me to study linguistics in college. This was one of the most fascinating examples of etymology.

And yes...the basic, humble things are where we find the divine.

Blessed Be,
Michael

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