Thursday, December 19, 2013

Yule and the Ghosts of the Past

When the ancient ones celebrated Samhain, now known as Halloween, the festival was not only the point marking the new year, but it also signified a time period during which the northern hemisphere would experience what they called "the long darkness."  

With the Yule season only a couple of days away we now find ourselves situated at the edge of the dark abyss--Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year. This is a time when even the daylight hours are often gloomy, holding within them the possibility of winter storms followed by bitter and sometimes life-threatening cold. 

Yule has long been a Pagan celebration, which dates back to a period before the birth of Jesus and Christianity; yet, it too concerns a birth of sorts as the Sun God is reborn to the Goddess. In more scientific terms, the date and celebration marks the time that the sun begins it's march back toward the equator and eventually, the Northern Hemisphere. The relationship between Yule and Christmas, which follows three or four days later is undeniable, and the reasons for fusing together the two way back in the fourth century are best left to history. Still, the darkness is ever present within both. 

These are times when an icy cold entity inhabits the night and lurks outside our doors and windows hoping to gain access to our small bubble of warmth and security. These are times when one thinks twice before stepping outside for fear of allowing in the creature with its icy grip--a grip capable of causing misery and even death if not vanquished within a short amount of time. Like the mindless zombies in the film Night of the Living Dead, the cold is unrelenting in its efforts to gain entrance and cause havoc. 

Yet, there is also great beauty during these long wintry nights. Just walk along some deserted trail as the full moon shines from behind the silhouetted but naked bodies of trees, stripped of their summer foliage. They stand like dark, ghostly entities casting their eerie but thin shadows onto the snow-laden ground; a picture right out of  your favorite Christmas card--or Halloween perhaps? 

And what about Christmas, that most popular of holidays in the western world? Is it not also a day of both joy and pain? I can still keenly recall the magic I used to feel as a child during the days leading up to the special event. For me, Christmas Eve was the culmination of weeks of preparation and waiting. In a sense, the following morning was anti-climatic; even though that's when we opened our presents. During the afternoon, our house would be teaming with extended family and relatives--on both floors. The smell of turkey lingered in the air and excitement was everywhere. 

That was then and this is now, however. The magic long ago disappeared with the advent of adulthood and greater understanding. Most of those relatives who made Christmas such a special time have long ago departed this world, and those older ones who remain reminisce and long for something that can no longer be. It's a painful time for them;  yet, how can those who no longer believe--who understand that the magic can no longer be created, assuage their sorrows? Even the music of the season, though exquisitely beautiful, is a painful thing. It very effectively transports our minds back to to childhood and recreates all that we felt during those simpler, more innocent times. So just as Ebenezer Scrooge in Dicken's Victorian novel, A Christmas Carol, was forced to face the Ghost of Christmas Past, so are we catapulted into a situation during which, we must confront the phantoms of our own past; these bringing forth feelings of melancholy, uncertainty and perhaps even long-felt regret. Still, we know that it's not just the music or memories that impose these warm but sometimes painful memories and emotions upon us; rather, the darkness itself forces this upon us, for it compels us to look inward, ever inward. 

 There are no bats, vampires, zombies or witches associated with Yule or Christmas imagery; yet, it's a season teaming with Gothic aspects of its own; and for some, an annual reminder of the relationship between pain and pleasure even as we are haunted by the figurative ghosts of our past. As with the case of Mr. Scrooge, these in turn, present us with an opportunity to embrace the darkness, to learn the lessons it teaches us and perhaps, to come to peace with our past.

A happy winter solstice and Yule season to all! 


Friday, December 6, 2013


An eerie silence envelopes East Mountain and the surrounding landscape. There's nary a sound except for the occasional barking of a dog or the joyful exclamation a child down below as he or she takes a first step into the altered terrain. Nothing is moving; any sound from moving traffic in the center of town is non existent. Many are calling it a snowpocalypse, And even as the final flakes flutter down from a brightening sky, just about everyone is rejoicing in the fact that the predicted ice storm gave us snow instead; at least, for those of us in the mountains and northward. People living in the Arkansas River Valley, which lies about an hour's drive south on the interstate, were not so lucky however.

The freezing rain began at around 8:00 am yesterday morning, and it quickly put an icy glace on streets, sidewalks and tree branches. Fortunately, the rain changed over sleet within a couple of hours and it continued to come down for the rest of the day and well into the night. Sleet can be a strange phenomenon. It creates a music all of its own as the listener is treated to a  virtual symphony as thousands upon thousands of ice pellets reverberate against sprawling tree branches, a ground cover of newly fallen leaves and the roofs of houses. For those who wanted to listen, last night provided us with a grand symphony! Eventually, the sleet changed over to a dry snow, thereby allaying any fear of downed trees and power outages.

Down in the river valley, things were much less pleasant. According to the last report I heard, more than 30,000 customers are without power; this, with bitter cold temperatures on the way. Last night the news people were reporting that some in the valley can expect to be without electricity for at least a week. Ice storms can inflict a lot of damage in a short amount of time and it can take quite awhile to recover.

A short while ago I measured the amount of snow accumulated here on East Mountain. It appears that we got about six inches (15 cm). Is that all? You might be asking. Yes, that's all but six inches of snow, especially on top of ice and sleet, pretty much immobolizes us for awhile. It will likely be two or three days before I'll be able to get off this mountain; that is, unless I want to walk. Snow plows are almost nonexistent here. We just wait for the sun to come back out and melt things, more or less.

Anyway, another dangerous storm has passed and hopefully, things will get restored to normal very quickly down south, where they got most of the ice. Oh, and don't mind my ghoulish friend here! He's really happy that the ice caused no damage to his haunts; he just doesn't look it at the moment. It seems that the snow made him look something like a cone head. He was a bit angry that I caught him looking so silly. Ghouls after all, are supposed to be scary.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Checking In

It's been nearly two weeks since I've posted, so I just thought I'd take a moment to say, "I'm still alive!" Actually, things have been quite busy lately but I'd been planning to start on a new and interesting (at least to me) post early this week until...

Until an ice storm found its way into the forecast for later this week--and the closer we get to the weather event the worse the forecast becomes. I don't know why, but it always seems to work this way. Back in 2009 we got a horrible storm that left something like an inch to 1.50 inches of ice on the power lines, tree branches, etc. We lost something like 25 percent of our trees to that storm and some were without power for weeks while contending with the January cold. Believe me when I tell you that it's no fun sitting in the dark listening to giant oak and maple trees crashing down to the ground all around you. So, you have to excuse me if I'm a little spooked by the prospect of going through this again. Of course, we're still two days out from the event and things can change. Right now, they're predicting .25 to .30 inches of ice for us, which is considerably less than we received back in 09, but it can still cause downed tree limbs and power outages. 

Needless to say, my efforts at creating a new post are postponed for a few more days as it's time to concentrate on finding a Coleman stove, buying candles, and cutting as much firewood as possible while the weather is still pleasant. If power is not lost I hope to start work on my next topic around Thursday. If it goes out...well, I guess I'll get back here when I can. 

About a month ago a lady friend told me that she had a feeling of foreboding about this winter--that she felt we were going to get another ice storm. Her words only justified my own similar feelings. I guess we were both right--and the winter is only just beginning!