Friday, December 7, 2007

Move into the Mountain

© 2007 Oona McOuat

Maybe it's the two week-long flu I am recovering from, but as December passes, I don't feel the slightest stirring of holiday cheer. There is no deep or sudden urge to drink eggnog or make sugar cookies. I am relieved that Christmas will be at my Dad's this year so I don't have to decorate or get a tree. I'm lackadaisical about gift giving. Cards seem passé.
Could it be that the grinch has got me?

Photo by Kmax

I don't think so. It feels like time is moving too fast. It's only been a few weeks since I finished picking blackberries and rosehips, and spent hours and hours slicing and drying the apples from my trees. Halloween wasn't even over and the shelves of the local pharmacy were decked out in red and green. The sooner they get us hooked, the more we'll spend.

According to National Geographic it would take $19 billion dollars to eliminate world hunger and malnutrition. Across the globe, we spend $18 billion dollars a year on cosmetics…. I'm lucky to live in a place with no malls and very few stores I can afford to shop in. There's no Ross Dress for Less to tempt me here.

Photo by Kmax

Bit by bit, winter is coming. We've already had two snowstorms. The branches of the trees are bare, scraping elegantly against a winter white or dazzling December-blue sky.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

On those frosty mornings when the grass and plants are glittering, hard-edged diamonds,
I put food out for the birds.  I spend hours each day hiking up a nearby mountain.  When I get near the top, to the place where the stone people tower over me like kindly grandparents and form caves where the Natives did their vision quests, I can feel cougars.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert   

One crisp morning, I heard twigs snapping behind me and I felt I was being stalked. I looked at the ground and there at my feet was a pile of unidentifiable droppings. Without a second thought I grabbed a big stick, ditched the trail, and scrambled down the rocky mountainside to my car. 

I am still learning about fear.

One day I climbed another mountain and told myself I couldn't come down until I had written a song. I made it out at dusk with an unusual set of elfin lyrics that seemed to come from the mountain itself. A new approach to writing, a new perspective in song, was born. Rather than rushing in to shape and order this newborn, oblivious to its holy, yet vulnerable state, (as futile as attempting to teach table manners to an infant) I decided to sit with this baby, this seedling, and see if it takes root.

This is a solitary time for me, this living alone in a one room cottage, learning to chop wood and befriend the deer and stellar jays that come to visit. I am putting aside my ideas of where I should be in my personal and professional life, while embracing and celebrating exactly where I am.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

So, Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat. Is it all about an excuse to overindulge? And what exactly are we feasting?

The Winter Solstice cannot be denied. The light will return.  The days will grow longer, but colder until Imbolc, when we'll be halfway to spring.  A contradiction, perhaps, but I'm glad to know that nature has them too. 

It is hard now on planet earth, at this hectic, topsy turvy time of good vs. evil, us vs. them, to trust the light will return. The darkness is fairly well entrenched. Or seems to be. Perhaps this is just an illusion. Like the "40% off" signs you see at the mall, or the way red Christmas lights reflected on snow make you think of fire.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

Deep inside us, big changes are happening. Beyond the world of Wal-Mart and online banking, newspapers and TV, monumental transformation is taking place. I can't name it, this subterranean flow of power and possibility, not yet, but I can sense it, buried like a patient bulb, hidden but not dormant, waiting for signs of spring.

Perhaps we all take this time we have here on earth too seriously. Recently, I've begun to understand what my father means when he says, "The older I get, the faster time passes." When my head is full of desires and disappointments, to-dos and not-to-dos, I crowd time with mental clutter and lose the moment. When I move into the mountain, listening to my breath huffing and puffing and my beating heart, I fall into the undefined and open spaces of my soul. She speaks to me, without words, of the soft green moss, the play of light on trees, and the subtle shifts of the season that I am a part of. She gives me a place of belonging, a place that lives outside of church and school, career and ideology, a place that is rooted in cyclical change and lives outside of time.

I will celebrate the light's returning in my own small ways. Maybe I will cut some holly from the bush in my yard and hang it over the doorway. Or make gingerbread cookies that fill the house with the smell of cinnamon and molasses. I will wrap a few simple presents for friends and family. But mostly I will use these last two weeks before the Winter Solstice to burrow into the dark and understand silence, to sit with sister stillness and recognize her peace.

There is a gift for each of us hidden here in the womb of winter if we risk unwrapping it. Deep inside ourselves, we find the sparkling filament that is our individual genius and our collective truth. We find the Star of Wonder that sings to us of Love.


Despite yesterday's somewhat Bah Humbug tone, today, as the snow fell, (snowstorm number three!), I decked the halls with boughs of holly and "fa la la la la-ed" a stanza or two for good measure.

I didn't plan for this to happen. It was not on my "to do" list. Spontaneity and inspiration struck …spontaneously! Yesterday after writing the above, I dressed as a forest dweller and sat in the winter cave - a shimmering world of ice and crystals, of candles suspended in silver globes as if mimicking the sun - and as magical Shelby, who created this world, tossed her waist length poinsettia-red hair, adjusted her bejeweled crown and crinoline, and told stories to the children who sat and listened in wide-eyed wonder, I played the harp.

Photo by Kmax

I wished I could have sat there longer - till the end of February at least, but at the end of the day as the magic world was dismantled, I returned home with a carload of boughs, wreaths, and swags to be recycled for my upcoming winter solstice show.

"Just keep them on your porch," Willow advised. Suddenly my cottage was infused with holiday spirit. Today, as I hung boughs from the porch railing, and watched a flock of hungry birds scour the yard for food, I decided that this year's Christmas tree would be for them. I stood a large fallen Douglas fir branch in a bowl of white stones. As snowflakes fell, I decorated it with rosehips that looked like slightly shriveled red bulbs; I covered its cones with peanut butter and bird seed, and felt joy.

Photo by Leigh Hilbert

As Bill McKibben says in his article,  The Problem with Christmas: "the second you … break out of it - the second you become one of those that exchanges used books at Christmas, or decides to follow St. Francis' Yule tradition of wandering the park and throwing seed so that the birds too can celebrate, or makes it an annual custom to serve turkey dinner at the homeless shelter- then you start sharing in the deep human secret that consumer society is set up to obscure: the things that please us most are almost always counterintuitive. We need to be out in the cold air, we need to think about others, we need to serve."

Photo by Kmax

No comments: