Previously posted on old blog.
The time between winter’s solstice to a day or two past New Year’s confounds me. The last few years it has been a week of ponderous suspension that is mute and unreadable. The long nights and short, often grey days seem oddly held by life supports of religious holidays and the bacchanalian New Year’s. It feels half alive with death and half dead with life.
Several years ago I spent much of it in bed sleeping, trying to recover from a flu. I think that is when I became caught in that week’s awareness, forced to give it a due I had run from most of life. It was like the first time of really seeing into the center of what something is though I’ve walked by it my entire life. I’d lived in Salt Lake most of my life, when one fine day I finally saw the grandeur and beauty of Mt. Olympus that bounds the city on the east. I finally understood how I lived under its guardianship.
Last year during this week I read Frithiof’s Saga, A Legend of Ancient Norway. Sent to do battle, Frithiof faces his innermost motivations, strengths and weaknesses in the lonely darkness of a Norwegian winter. I read about the hero’s quest under dark days with champagne as my companion. I felt something I couldn’t and didn’t try too hard to name while groping to understand poetry written in the 700s.
The other night, on January 2, I was reading that polar bear cubs are born through December and into the first week of January. In the perpetual darkness of the Arctic regions frail cubs unable to smell, see or hear are entirely dependent on the warmth and protection of the den, their mother and her milk supply. In the earlier chapter of Arctic Dreams, Barry Lopez wrote of the muskox, “They are tranquil animals, but their equipose should not be confused with docility.” I think the same of deep winter weeks.
The sun has shone this week, but encompassing deepness of nights have been just as stirring, though this year I’m trying to put words to it. I haven’t succeeded, so I will quote what Bishop Esaias Tegner wrote in the preface when he translated Frithiof’s Saga to Swedish in the 700s. If you prefer the significant and profound, that which ministers to seriousness and contemplation; if you delight in the gigantic but pale forms that float upon the mist and darkly whisper of the world of spirits and of the vanity of all things save true honor; then I must refer you to the hoary, Saga-stored North, where … chanted the keynote of creation, whilst the moon shone upon the cliffs.
This morning I at last feel an inner stirring of a compass turning to find forward, a first sniffing of a path out of darkness, a moving like a blind cub toward warmth.