Sunday, December 21, 2014

Season's Greetings

Ah, winter has arrived!  Tis the season of parties, parties, and parties!  The winter solstice has arrived and whether that event is a reminder to get your garlic planted so that it matures in time to pair with next summer’s tomatoes, or is your time for a Feast of Juul in tribute to Thor (didn’t he just star in a movie?) and the return of the sun’s cycle of life, light and warmth; it is a time of anticipation, sharing, fellowship and celebration. 
Yes, we honor the shortest day/longest night of the year in many different traditions.  The Inuits have their Quviasukvik or winter feast where everyone brings some meat and drink, and all is shared by everyone simultaneously while contemplating their favored deity (Bless this food, Father), later exchanging gifts in quiet family gatherings (sounds like my house). 
Western Europeans burn a Yule log and scatter the ashes on their farm fields as fertilizer each day until the Twelfth Day (On the twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… Ashes).
Our Wiccan friends celebrate twelve days of the Lesser Sabbat known as Alban Arthan (12 days again?), or the rebirth of the sun god (Son of God). 
The Romans had their feast of Saturnalia, where all grudges and arguments were temporarily forgotten, warring armies issued a cease-fire (peace on Earth, goodwill toward men), slaves became the masters, and all businesses, schools and government offices were closed.  This eventually degenerated (as only the Romans could do) into an annual period of debauchery, gluttony and greed (hmm?  Kind of sounds like mall shopping). 
The Mayans came to celebrate the solstice with polo voladore (or Flying Pole Dance).  They climb a fifty foot pole while playing a drum or flute, then tie a rope around one ankle and jump off.  To land on one’s feet was considered a sign of good luck -- well, duh!  (I have no idea what that has to do with modern traditions, but it sounds like fun, doesn’t it?)  It’s no wonder why their calendar stops right before the solstice of 2012 -- it wasn’t predicting the end of the world, they were just tired of bungee jumping. 
I don’t mean to shortchange the celebrants of Hanukkah, Brumalia, Dies Natalis Solis Invicti, Makar Sankranti, Pongal, Jól, Chaomos, Gody, Kwanza, Festivist or the Norse Boar’s Head Feast (nothing to do with the lunchmeat), but there are only so many parties I can get to.
You can see how this all ties in.  It wasn’t until 354 AD that the Church fathers realized that the birth of the Christ Child was an important event to be remembered in worship and praise.  With little historic or Biblical guidance, they set December 25th as the date of the Nativity of the Savior.  It did, and I’m sure not by accident, coincide with the winter solstice and the myriad of long-held traditions that existed worldwide across so many cultures and allowed for an easy conversion and transition for those of us who came to believe.
This snidbit of anthropological history is not meant to debase any ancient or modern tradition or belief, but the next time you hear, “Tis the season,” whether you share my religious beliefs or not, I hope you’ll understand that it IS, and always HAS BEEN, the season; the coming of the Son and the coming of the sun. 

However you celebrate, may Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, or the Holy Spirit of God grant you and yours, a Very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Surprising View from on High

     I hear continual comments of envy over the spectacular views I enjoy from my perch high on this mountain.  The ever changing pastels of the sunrises and sunsets, the glittering vista of the valley below, the majestic crests of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the horizon, and the breath taking array of the flora and fauna of the forest canopy keep my interest and curiosity piqued.  It is, and always will be, my quiet respite from the computer screens and intellect deprived television programming.  The views are never the same, even from minute to minute.  I can’t count the number of times that I stepped outside and saw something so unique that I scrambled for a camera only to miss the lighting by mere seconds.  So it has become habit to carry my phone, if not my camera, each and every trip to the second floor deck that adorns my mountain abode.

     Several nights ago, having spent the last reserves of my ocular energy on a tedious trial transcript, feeling pretty low and rather lonely, I poured a glass of wine and stepped outside to enjoy my world as the sun set on the Tennessee side of the ridges and the valley lights began to mark the arrivals of the worker ants returning from their daily labors.  The December weather has been comfortably temperate (especially after the frigid and snowy November we endured), so I stood sweaterless as I looked out across the lowlands.
     My dogs had followed me out to keep me company, and although I love their companionship, I must confess that their conversational talents are far from entertaining.  I asked them, as I frequently do, what was going on in the world this beautiful night.  They responded with a curious and non-understanding stare, so I teased them with a, “I wonder if Angel is coming?”  That kept their attention for some minutes as they watched through the darkness for the nomadic dog that comes almost daily for a visit and play date.

     Turning my attention back to the darkened valley, I notice a plumb of smoke rising from a small knoll about three miles from my house.  As the night sky grew deep, I could see multiple glows from a circumference of fire and thought it was an odd time, much too dry, and a wee bit windy for someone to be burning brush outdoors.
     I stepped in and grabbed my always-at-the-ready binoculars to be sure there was a vigilant attendant, but there was no one in sight. I widened my scan looking for emergency lights, and found them equally absent.  Admittedly, there was some hesitation in me about calling the authorities knowing that there were so many houses on that hillside that someone either had noticed the fire, or it was a controlled burn with the human factor simply hidden from view in the darkness.
     I finally succumbed to that inner voice whispering, “But what if….?”  I dialed 911 with an apologetic, “I’m sure someone has already reported this,” and explained my distant vantage point and the approximate location of the fire.  911 stated there had been no report and even asked that should it be necessary, could the fire department come up to my house to help them spot the location.  I assured the dispatcher that the fire would be clearly visible from the road.
     My view from on high became a different experience that night.  In the far distance I can see the fire station on Carolina Boulevard, I watched as the volunteers arrived and launched the tanker.  I could hear the shrill sirens as they wound their way back along Thompson Cove Road and made the turn onto Hideaway Creek.  The fire continued to spread to the point where trees ignited and the flames cast an eerie orange glow in the forest below.  The brave firefighters arrived in the nick of time.  It did not take them long to extinguish the flames, but I am sure it felt like an eternity to the people who dwell on that hillside. 

      In the days since, I have looked, both through the binoculars from my deck, and from the roadside on the way to town, I cannot see the scars of the errant flames.  All is better now; as I finish these words, the sun is painting glorious colors in the west, my dogs are playfully wrestling, and the home lights are beginning to dot the landscape.  There are no mysterious plumbs rising from the forest floor, and that’s just the way I like it.  The only illuminations I care to see in the trees are Christmas lights.