Solstice Oxygen

Last night while closing my 10pm shift, I did the usual walkabout the hostel. I wrote a message on the office door, contemplated changing the Quote of the Day (“Life is a book. Those who do not travel read only a page” -St. Augustin), but didn’t, said goodnight to the half-dozen hostellers still up reading thick novels and finishing a raucous game of Balderdash, drained the mucky kitchen sinks and poured another 40 pound bag of pellets into the wood stove hopper.

I also locked the four doors connecting the hostel to Outside. At each door, before locking up, I pushed the door ajar slightly–just 12 inches or so–and poked my head into the night. I felt like a bear, sticking her nose out of the den.

Hmm.

Would a bear stick her nose out of the den on the Winter Solstice eve? Around here, maybe. It doesn’t get quite cold enough for a full hibernation, so the bears kind of “mini hibernate” throughout the winter. Like cat napping for four months. (I, human mother to a newborn and preschooler, am envious beyond reproach).

Outside was instant awake. Foamy waves belly-flopped onto rocks. Sky mist separated the land and sea from most stars, yet even then, at least four dozen Other Suns broke through the fog. Twinkle, twinkle, how small we are. It was cold, but a cold of gratitude. That is, you feel it, and wordlessly give thanks to this cold for –like a bell– alerting you to where you are. Bringing you back to now.

And the air.

When I’d poked my head outside, I took a deep breath of that air. I did not tell myself, “Oh, fresh air! Breathe it in!” Didn’t need to. Just, head poked outside, lungs got the news and pulled in as much air as they could. I had nothing to do with it. At least not the conscious parts. The best I could do was to notice.

The other day, I took a short walk on the Yurok Loop trail with my newborn son in a front carrier, napping as he likes to do. No other humans were around. The rain abated, and only a sheath of mist lingered. I was on the move and outside, so the fresh air pumped freely in and out of my lungs, letting me breathe deeply with such regularity that I could take this for granted. Of course the wilds will always be this accessible. Of course I’ll always make time for a hike. Of course I can always breathe like this.

That was when I made a pact with nature, or if you like, Nature. To be on her side. In a non-dualistic culture there wouldn’t be sides, only one long roll of the tides that carried everyone and everything on it, landing ashore in one piece. But my culture needs to choose. Whose side we’d take, if it came down to it. Are you with us, or against us?

I’d rather not focus on who I’d be against, but I can choose to be with nature, and not for nature’s sake, either. If we left, if humans wiped ourselves out through war or simply attrition, the plants, microbes and non-human animals would survive. Persist. Evolve. They would move on. I side with nature for our sake. I want my great-great-great grandchild to take her newborn son for a hike someday. He deserves at least that much.

A bird swooped down a few feet in front of us and alighted nearby on the branch of a red alder tree. I looked up. This wasn’t just a bird, it was a Spotted Owl. In our human world, the spotted owl is the symbol, the epitome, of the bitter struggle between “loggers” and “tree huggers.” I doubt that this particular spotted owl knew, or cared, about our little fights in humanland. She just wanted to have a look at us. She watched me, I watched her. After a few minutes, I walked away. It was a simple relationship.

That is the Solstice for me. Simple. The sun rises, the sun sets. Sometimes it moves closer to us, other times it moves away. We don’t need to control it, or sell it, or even seek to ‘understand’ it. All we need to do is take notice.

 

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