Sunday, December 21, 2008

Grianstad an Gheimhridh - Winter Solstice

While doing some background research this morning on the winter solstice, my mind started to wander into the past, trying to imagine what it must have been like in ancient days to observe natural phenomenon and not know the ‘science’ behind it. What must it have been like to stand in the predawn hours, waiting for the sun to rise, hoping that it would. How would it feel to not have any ‘expert’ information on how things work, but instead merely observe, mark, and celebrate the calendar round by the change of seasons, astronomical events, and the like?

An oak grove seemed like a most appropriate place to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Noel and I went to Topanga State Park this morning to hike and revel in the beauty of this place. I've been exploring my pagan roots ever since I decided to embrace the matriarchal side of my family; both grandmothers were Scots-Irish (the Germanic side of my grandfathers doesn't resonate with me all that much). As I've immersed myself more and more into nature and gotten involved with conservation issues, I feel very connected to the Earth, in often deep and compelling ways. And so this Winter Solstice will be just the beginning (as it should be at this time of year) of a new life and new year celebrating the calendar round of the ancient Celts and Druids.

"Grianstad an Gheimhridh (Irish translation: winter solstice) is a name sometimes used for hypothetical midwinter rituals or celebrations of the Proto-Celtic tribes, Celts, and late Druids. In Ireland's calendars, the solstices and equinoxes all occur at about midpoint in each season. The passage and chamber of Newgrange (Pre-Celtic or possibly Proto-Celtic 3,200 BCE), a tomb in Ireland, are illuminated by the winter solstice sunrise. A shaft of sunlight shines through the roof box over the entrance and penetrates the passage to light up the chamber. The dramatic event lasts for 17 minutes at dawn from the 19th to the 23rd of December." (from Wikipedia)

Nice little copse of trees on a mound in the oak grove...

...and hiding amongst them a little wood sprite.

The sky began to transform with clouds during the day; 'mare's tails' signal a change of weather, for indeed we are supposed to get rain tomorrow.

A pointy hillock crowned with cloud.

Virga drips from cirrus clouds.

Sweeping and rolling like waves, the clouds move with the rising winds...

...painting strange sigils...

...and signs on the expanse of blue sky.

Yellow-rumped (Audubon's) Warblers were plentiful. This was a lucky shot--these birds flit around so quickly that you can rarely photograph let alone glass them. The oaks in the grove were absolutely filled with them. I did a rough count of more than 40. Other birds seen or heard:
  • Common Raven
  • Red-tailed Hawk
  • Oak Titmouse
  • Spotted Towhee
  • California Thrasher
  • Wrentit

Some of the cloven ones made an appearance, too. We found three deer along the Mishe-Mokwa Trail (little used, as we only saw deer prints in the mud along its length). We were very still and they were quite close, but the sound my digital made each time I took a shot made them nervous, and so they disappeared into the tall weeds.

Doe wants to know what we are doing in her backyard.

The "urban wild child" with Eagle Rock in the background. Another great hike on a fantastically beautiful day. Topanga State Park is about a half hour drive from my home, so I am most grateful to have this slice of the 'urban wild' so close by--especially on this auspicious day!

[Composed to a mixed bag of music: Neil Young ("Zuma") , Patti Smith ("Long Gone" & "Gung Ho"), Moody Blues ("Seventh Sojourn"), Pete Namlook & Klaus Schultze ("Dark Side of the Moog").


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