LET THERE BE LIGHT…
Puxatawney Phil, the famous western PA groundhog, came up over a month ago and let us know that winter would be hanging around for a bit. He saw his shadow, which according to the lore, means we in PA would have to wait at least more weeks before we can experience the warmth, growth and energy of another spring. Of course, Phil’s predictions are subject to question: Groundhog Day is February 2, and there are always at least 6 more weeks until the vernal equinox and the true beginning of the spring season. But I love the lore of Phil; I am a fan of many folkloric and cultural traditions, and Phil grew out of the German cultures that came to Pennsylvania in the 1700's. I love the ways different cultures around the world all experience and ritualize around the same universal human experiences, and I enjoy finding out about them. It reminds me of our humanness and how we are all the same beneath the surface. We have to face the same world with the same conditions in it, and we have to make some sort of sense of it all. Ritual, stories, customs and folklore are ways of doing that. For me, though, Phil is in no way a real indication of spring. Spring is too meaningful and wonderful to depend on a groundhog. For me there is no more reliable and powerful indicator of spring than the changes in the sky that take place at this time of the year. The changing presence of light tells me where we are in the wonderful everlasting cycle of seasons.
I am an early riser; I am usually out walking around quarter to six in the morning. I am also a lover of night skies, and in winter the sky is so intense and so dramatic And it is still there when I walk in the morning. That combination of walking early and the intense presence of the winter night sky regularly bring me quiet joy and comfort. I love watching the slow change in the locations of the constellations over the course of a winter, and I love watching the moon cycle through its phases. Both of these celestial happenings seem so much starker and definite in winter. Watching them as I walk can both soothe and amaze me.
I do start to get a little tired of winter by mid-February, though, and that is when something else wonderful happens. Watching the day come into being earlier and earlier as winter passes its halfway point is quietly fascinating. It is lighter when I start my walks now, and the sky at 6:00 is not quite as dark and dramatic as it was just a few weeks ago. The constellations are not as bright, and the light of the coming new day is visible earlier and earlier. It is a different sky now; we are relentlessly transitioning from one season to the next. I notice the way shadows shift, the way light is reflected off rooftops and grass, and on some mornings I get to see this wonderful and eerie rolling fog moving over some of the larger expanses of grasses and streams. I like to walk either north up to Chestnut Hill, or west deeper into Mt Airy and there are beautiful gardens and large expanses of grass in either direction. I love the quiet of this time; the stillness and the grandeur. It is that evolving awakening of early morning light that announces the coming of spring to me, and it is much more powerful than Phil.
Part of me misses the old winter night sky; I almost go through a brief mourning period. Then I notice that at around 6:15, if I am looking southeast, I can see a bright reddish-orange flush or streak against the horizon. And above the housetops and trees, the coming day seems just roll out into being, And if I am out for a nice long walk like I was this morning, I can watch the sun gradually become more and more visible as the daylight surrounds us. Also at this time of the year I can look to the northwest sky and still see the moon. Both the sun and the moon: out together. That is a glorious way to start the day.
So while I like the story of Phil and know that its origins are with Candlemas Day and the hedgehogs in Germany during the Roman era, it is those changes in the light that most alert me that spring will be here soon. It lets me know where we are in the cycle, and it is undeniable. And while I am out and noticing that returning light, I also look at the lawns and notice the snowdrops and pansies making their first appearance of the year. I also gradually notice more and more bird activity as species that have been around all winter get more active, and other ones are coming back and again being heard. Spring is slowly unfolding, and watching and hearing it come is an absolute joy. Yes, I still miss the winter night sky, and I probably will for a while. But I can also welcome this new sky, the one that tells me this marvelous cycle is still in play and that it has different joys and wonders in store for all of us if we pay attention. And that is very good, indeed.
American Blues Scene is an online publication that features reviews of music and concerts, reports on blues developments, and interviews with musicians. I was interviewed for the mid-January edition and here is the link:
Please read it and let me know what you think.
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