Saturday, December 20, 2008

winter solstice

My favorite holiday all year long is the winter solstice, and over the years we have created our own rituals to celebrate the longest night. On a winter solstice night several years ago, before we had our horses, my good friend Kim invited us to her house. We spent a wonderful afternoon riding, shared a lovely meal, and ended the evening with our ritual of reading poems by candlelight beneath the dark night sky.

What happened with Kim's horses as we went from barn to barn with treats and candles was the first of many solstices to come that we would share with horses. We are fortunate indeed to have our own barn now, filled with our delightful and wise partners in zen: Keil Bay, Apache Moon, Cody, Salina, Rafer Johnson, and Redford.

Tomorrow night we'll make some magic with the herd, and count our blessings.

Matthew's photo from the Great Smoky National Park is another favorite: hoarfrost, which has its own magic.

And a poem I wrote following our solstice with Kim and her horses. I have never spent time editing it, so in a way it's still in progress, but it captures some of what we shared that evening, and what became a central part of our yearly celebration.

Happy Winter Solstice, all!

Winter’s Solstice With Kim

Afternoon we ride patterns in the ring
as the sun lows and then slides from sight.
Smack of girth on saddle as we untack in dusk,
feed before dark falls,
prepare dinner for our hungry selves.

Holiday cookies and red wine.
White candles which we light
and take outside
to the little hill
beyond Fred’s paddock.

We chant, recite the typed out poems
while high above the wide dark sky
is smeared with stars.
We hold tiny flames
against the night.

Processional, the long slow walk
to the barn
Apples and carrots for the horses
Fred circles in his stall
and takes his treats, accepts warm hands
along his velvet nose.

We march in single file to the mares’ barn
Flames protected by cupped hands
Annie and Nix wait patiently with their babies
Firefly and Fenix
While Winnie nickers and paces.

Share warm breath with horses.
In unison we go silent:
sacred space.

We celebrate
this longest night.

Go home with love and light.


Grey Horse Matters said...

Beautiful picture with the hoarfrost. The winter solstice is a magical time and celebrating it outside with your family and the animals, brings to mind ancient rituals done all over the world in times past. I actually think it's a wonderful tradition.
I liked your poem too, especially the last line-
Go home with love and light.

Victoria Cummings said...

Beautiful poem, Billie. When we lived in California, our neighbors celebrated the WInter Solstice by making a huge spiral in their yard using pine boughs. All the kids in the neighborhood were invited to come over. They were given apples that were hollowed out with a candle in each one. The candles were lit and each child was allowed to hold it, walk the spiral and place the candle wherever they wanted on the boughs. There was always magical music playing. Then, there was a big bonfire and food and drink to celebrate. I always say that I'm going to do this ritual here in New England, but I haven't yet. Of course, this year, with the snowstorms, I guess I've got an excuse. Enjoy the Solstice with your horses! I'll be thinking of you.

billie said...

Arlene, there is a sense with the horses in the candlelight of being in a very sacred and old "space." A sort of timelessness to the cycle of the year, and to the darkness and the light, that is very soothing.

billie said...

Victoria, what a lovely ritual! I love the idea of a bonfire and was thinking earlier in the season that if I collected one wheelbarrow full of dead wood as I walked up the hill from the labyrinth path, we could have a grand bonfire on the solstice and again on the new year's eve.

But I didn't do it, and now everything is waterlogged with more rain falling! But maybe next year.

Stay warm and safe up there, both you AND Arlene, and enjoy the snow while it's beautiful.

jme said...

happy solstice! i love this post and your poem as well. it's been a while since i've done anything special, but i do usually remember to light a candle, read some of my favorite myths and meditate. i'm a total agnostic, but there is something about these ancient 'pagan' observances that just feel right to me, so i try to keep that heritage in mind during the insanity at christmas time. it's the only way i find i can relate to the xian message of xmas - that both, in their way, view this time as a rebirth of Light into the world :-)

billie said...

jme, I know what you mean about the insanity of the very commercial Christmas. For me, the winter solstice is a quieter, more reflective holiday/celebration, and very symbolic.

I've become more attuned to the practical side of it as well, though, since living here with horses and living the shorter days with the same amount of chores to get done. Even with lights in the barn, there are things that can't be done after dark.

jme said...

i know what you mean about the practical side. that's another reason for celebration to me! i leave for work and return home in the dark, taking care of the horses before and after, in the dark, and knowing that turning point has passed and days will be getting longer makes coping a little easier :-)

billie said...

I just had this vision of a sort of Victorian wheelbarrow, with little candle holders affixed to the front end. Not to mention hoof picks with lights attached!

jme said...

now that would be something! a hoof pick with a light, kind of like those keychains with the built-in light. patent that - you could make a fortune ;-) i was thinking of getting a miner's helmet, but i think it'd scare the horses ;-)

billie said...

LOL - daughter and I "invent" things sometimes when mucking. Stall corner "toilets" that are flushable by the horse. Summer shower heads in the paddock where the horse pushes his nose against a lever and gets cooled off. (Keil Bay would inevitably stand there all day and drain our well!)

Some sort of bedding "pipes" that work sort of like the bulk bins in grocery stores.

Maybe some of these things exist and we just don't know about them!

Rising Rainbow said...

I always look forward to the winter solstice.....mostly because it means the days are actually going to start getting longer. I so long for more light.

Isn't it funny how barn chores can lead to thoughts of inventions. I wonder how many of us actually get far enough to actually implement any of our "creations."

billie said...

MiKael, I wish I had the know-how to create stall toilets, but then where would I get all my good ideas? Mucking is such a meditative time for me, even though there are plenty of days I'd be willing to give it up. :)

Rising Rainbow said...

Well, right now my mind is on inventions to keep hoses thawed out! By the time I get it figured out, our deep freeze will be over.

billie said...

Good luck! We're back to low 20s tonight so will likely have the same problem in the a.m.

Rising Rainbow said...

Yes, that's us too and they're saying another 8 inches of snow overnight as well......boy do I have cabin fever.....

billie said...

My gosh - stay warm and sane! Everyone in my house would LOVE some snow but all I can think of is how much extra work it will be with the horses. If I had an indoor arena to turn them out in as needed, I wouldn't care so much.