December 21, 2009

Solstice Magic

Those who understand the magic of the winter solstice know that everything has a season. Sowing corn in December is useless but in May we put out all the exertion we can for planting. The world is entering a season of that kind of possibility.

Sometimes I feel a little bit blue at this time of year. I am solar powered and my energy ebbs in this season but I awoke this morning feeling positively joyful. Personally, I found the results of the Climate Conference in Copenhagen encouraging. Granted we did not come  away with a binding treaty or even an enforceable agreement. But for the first time I heard an American President say that the United States is the worlds largest producer of greenhouse gasses and we are prepared to shoulder our share of the responsibility. It will be up to all of us to use our voice to compel our leaders to back these statements up in the months ahead.

Today my thoughts are focused on the sun and the ways in which my ancient ancestors greeted it on this day of the year, the winter solstice.  Last year I visited New Grange (Bru’ Na Boine) in County Meath, Ireland. At this and other passage cairns, as well as stone circles throughout Western Europe, ancient people tracked the movements of celestial bodies, as far back as eight thousand years ago. For many of us these were our ancient ancestor’s, our own indigenous roots. I maintain a daily observance of these ancient ones, at my home in Fort Collins, with the aid of an ancestor stone carved by my dear cousin Sandy.

The relationship between de-forestation and climate change has been well documented. It has also been observed that many of the worlds healthiest forest eco-systems are those that are under the care of indigenous people that live within them. It is the indigenous view of sacredness and not economic value that has been the driving force behind preserving these areas, so crucial to the health of the planet. How could we modern people recover some of this sense of sacredness and awe in relationship to the natural world in an authentic way and would that help us make decisions beneficial to future generations?

I set off for my own local forest this morning before sunrise pondering these questions. When the sun arose I was at the edge of the Cache la Poudre River. I said a brief thank-you to the sun whose warmth and light sustains the plants, animals and people that I love.

Continuing on my walk I saw many woodland creatures. Though the blue herons, meadow larks and many other birds have headed to warmer southern climate there were many birds still. Three crows cavorted on shimmering black wings and the kingfisher chattered over the river with his bright blue crown. Black-capped chicadees sang chicka-dee-dee-dee, as ducks glided solemnly on the un-frozen portions of the river. I saw two snipes with their long bills on the river bank and a mink sitting on the ice. How did he get out there I wondered, then he showed me how – he dived easily into the icy water. A red fox trotted by in search of breakfast. I was very happy to see all these woodland friends, so close to the city.

I grew up haunting this kind of urban forest. Then I grew to see these areas as isolated remnants of fractured eco-systems. Now once again I frequent urban forests and I’m grateful for these places where we can observe nature on daily basis.

How will the species that live on these urban edges adapt to climate change? I suspect that they will adapt in much the same way that they have already adapted to the sweeping changes that have occurred on this continent over the last five hundred years. And we would do well to watch and learn from life’s inexhaustible and versatile creativity.

Perhaps humans are coming together in Copenhagen and other places on this planet, each one bringing their own piece of the puzzle, in order to become a wiser more compassionate species. And this is not the end of nature, just a dark hour, another ebb and transformation in our planets journey through the universe.

If trying to save the natural world hasn’t worked before why would it work now? Those who understand the magic of the winter solstice know that everything has a season. Sowing corn in December is useless but in May we put out all the exertion we can for planting. The world is entering a season of that kind of possibility.

The best of all the things that I saw today was a child in the forest, much like the child that I once was, playing with a branch under an enormous willow tree. I have seen this child before, alone in the woods. Perhaps this child made the paper swan that I found here two weeks ago, for certainly this child is magical. And observing a magical child such as that greatly cheers an aging wizard like myself.

Cheerful Solstice!

Jim Tolstrup is the Executive Director of the High Plains Environmental Center in Loveland, Colorado. HPEC works with developers, businesses and homeowners, to promote the restoration and conservation of Colorado’s unique native biodiversity in the suburban environments where we live, work and play. www.suburbitat.org

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