Winter Solstice The sun rises long after eight as far south and east as it goes, just over Rame Head on the sea and sets – having made a small journey round to a point as west-southwest as it will go – at a quarter past four; only most days it will have been dark for some time already, or so it feels. The potential – if it’s not cloudy – daylight hours are eight and barely a minute, the fewest of the year. From the winter solstice on, the sun sets moments later each afternoon. But what is strange to note, having become obsessed by these daylight tables, is that the sun rises two minutes later here at Devonport after the Solstice, over Christmas, and the pendulum does not start to swing back with the sun rising earlier until Epiphany on the 5th of January. Thereafter the length of the day increases, by about five seconds a day to begin with, and later this increase grows incrementally with each day of the new year.
We brought the Christmas trees in today. Mr B stuck three together because he couldn’t get a decent one. One year he got one so big he chopped off the top and stood it up and decorated it in the boys’ room on the floor above, as if it went through the ceiling. Those ‘amulets of pine’ Emily Dickinson observed are the gums and resins which smell so divine. Being conifers, all parts of a Christmas tree contain resin, which consists of two main elements: a volatile oil (turpentine) and a solid (rosin) known to fiddle players. Conifers have more fractious branches than hardwoods and rosin or resin not only forms a hard scab once the volatiles have evaporated, and hence an unassailable seal on any wounds, but also has antibiotic and anti-fungal properties protecting the plant. Bees know this and collect it to make propolis, and honey from pine forests is deliciously retsina impregnated because I suppose it has great quantities of coniferous pollen.
A forest has stepped into the hall; I am sure it shuffles silently nearer the fire when we are not looking. In my imagination, it smells of cedars and the mountains of the Lebanon in the silent snow. Bottled, the smell would be electric green. I am half expecting to find ceps, Boletus edulis, sprouting from the skirting. Moss, warmed bark and, somewhere, cinnamon permeate the ground floor. After all the hollering, and needle sweeping, fetching and carrying, the precious boxes reveal their glittering cargo. The weekend becomes contemplative with the cowbell clinkclonk of meeting glass baubles, shock shatterings, sibilant swear words, the snap clicking of wire snippers, creak of ladders. The scent seeps out as the branches settle and relax, fingered and tied-to, almost gaseous but benign. Tomorrow morning the whole house will resonate with a resinous air, like a violinist preparing a bow, drawing music from the glitter, febrile and reflective. Christmas can be torment and too much hype, but bringing the forest into the parlour is a good thing. To surrender to the end of another year of woody green growth in a celebration of berries and burning logs reawakens a series of beacons in the brain. The teenagers feel it, as do the dogs, and the delivery men. I think of Ezra Pound’s ‘The Garret’.
Dawn enters with little feet like a gilded Pavlova, And I am near my desire. Nor has life in it aught better Than this hour of clear coolness, the hour of waking together.
Trematon winter dawn