Winter Solstice occurs at 4:55 a.m. EST tomorrow, December 21. Those of us lucky enough in this world to be blessed with adequate food, shelter, and safety are mostly fixated on the holiday season that culminates (for many) with New Year’s Eve celebrations in less than two weeks. These often family-focused upcoming days can be wonderful affirmations of our connections to kin and home, and I wish all of my readers the very merriest of holidays.
But before these happy times occur, we celebrate an older tradition born from earlier centuries, when the sun’s presence – and absence – was deemed critical to the survival of everyone. On the darkest, longest night of the year, bonfires were built, prayers were chanted, and the sky was anxiously scanned for signs of dawn’s new light – the return of the sun, of life – of hope.
Light is often equated with hope, and darkness with despair. But today I invite you to consider the yin-yang of things – that dark and light are not opposites between which we must choose. Rather, they are parts of a whole, and perhaps holding too tightly to only half is contributing to the current state of our planet.
The dark can be a scary place, there’s no denying, but it is also critical to the life cycles of all living creatures. Most seeds require a dark meditation period in the embrace of earth before they germinate and reach for the light above. Roots of plants great and small embrace the darkness, drawing sustenance from it. Myriad creatures including microscopic bacteria and fungi, worm-hunting moles, root-nibbling voles, and bug-hunting salamanders all dwell happily in the darkness of earth. These darkness dwellers are essential to the survival of those of us who prefer the light. We need each other, and we need to understand each other.
I fervently wish I had an easy solution to this dark-versus-light crisis currently clutching our planet in a near stranglehold. But we humans are complex creatures, and attempts to oversimplify reality are not helpful. Thus, I have recently spent a good bit of time pondering what actions I can take myself to create more balance in my world. Of course, being a devoted lover of the Green World, I pondered ways I might be able to bring more balance – and love – to the natural world I see under assault everywhere I look.
In the new year, I hope to share some of what I’ve been reading and thinking about, but today I want to leave you with some of the many signs of hope I have recently encountered as I have been searching for ways to facilitate balance in my world.
- A local church blessed with acreage has dedicated their space to serving the homeless – humans and native plants and animals – by building spaces on their land that will serve those groups, creating a green, safe sanctuary that will shelter and heal bodies and spirits.
- A local high school has committed over the last few years to a native landscape, creating beautiful, diverse plantings around their buildings. And now they have begun planting a forest where a vast expanse of sterile Bermuda grass lawn once dominated. Row by row, native oaks are lovingly planted, and site-appropriate smaller natives are tucked around and between the young saplings. The man leading this transformation estimates it will take about 20 years for trees to become young forest, the Bermuda grass to vanish, the natives – plant and animal – to make homes in the new landscape. But the manifestation of the vision is underway – vibrant life from sterile lawn, light from darkness.
- Several groups of local citizens are beginning to tackle the enormous task of reclaiming their neighborhood greenways. Long-dominated by aggressive invasive non-native plant species, these recreational corridors are in many areas entirely dominated by a mix of non-native thugs that have outcompeted the natives that were there first, degrading essential habitats that native animals rely on for survival in an increasingly urbanized region. One stretch of greenway at a time, these groups plan to establish the light of a balanced, native landscape from the dark snarl of invasive plants that currently dominate these corridors.
That’s only a sample of what I’ve learned about activities going on in just my little corner of southeastern piedmont. But what I have also learned is that similar projects are emerging all across the United States. It seems to this lover of the Green World that many of us have reached a similar conclusion about the current state of our planet. To bring light from darkness, we must act locally. One project at time – one bonfire at a time – we are creating green light from darkness.
On the long, dark night of this Winter Solstice eve, I invite all my readers to take a few moments to reflect on what you are doing to bring light to our planet. Whether you choose to act on behalf of the Green World or perhaps one of the many other causes or disenfranchised groups in desperate need of your light and energy, I think the important thing here is to act.
Embrace the darkness; see the kernel of light always within it. Build your bonfire, and light up night’s sky.