View from The Hermitage Solstice eve 2019

Solstice has come to feel like the true ‘new year’s’ celebration for me and Jeff and many of our friends. Solstice eve, the longest night, marks the occasion so distinctly, followed by the return of the sun and longer days starting the very next day. As a gardener, it also feels a bit like the start of spring more than winter. The sun is returning after all and in only a few months I will be starting many of the seeds for early spring planting.

Catalogs have already arrived and in February I will be starting the celery, the earliest of seeds to start. It feels like there has hardly been a break from the fall harvest, and admittedly I get a little overwhelmed thinking about starting seeds. So I am grateful for the cold, snowy weather that is still to come, to help incubate the seeds of inspiration I have started with my Solstice celebration.

Every year now (I’ve lost count of how many) Jeff and I harvest a small White Pine sapling that is crowded by other trees and shrubs or isn’t growing in a location it can survive. This beautiful creature becomes our Solstice Tree. This year we went out on the Solstice; a beautiful, sunny afternoon, to find just the right one. These small saplings tend to cluster along the steep edges of the creeks that run through our property, vying for sunlight. White Pines can be called the tree of fives; they have five needles, five branches coming from the whorl of branches in each year’s growth and five ‘flowers’ in it’s terminal buds. It grows one whorl of the five branches every year, making it easy to age. You can count 4 whorls on the one in the photo, but our tree is five years old, we needed to remove the lowest whorl of branches.

Once the tree was up, I used some of the cut branches for vases around the house and made a delicious tea with the extra needles. I was reminded of how I feel when I eat deer that Jeff or a friend have hunted, the deer becomes a part of me and I have the opportunity and obligation to honor them by living in a good way. I had not applied this thought process to plants in the same way. I honor them, but I have certainly put them in a lower standing than an animal. Harvesting this tree and drinking the tea of it’s needles changed that in a beautiful way. This is a friend and the obligation is equal to any other creature growing on earth. This new level of awareness is deeply fulfilling and delicious. I will savor it for years to come.

By now it was nearly 4pm and the sun would be setting soon. We put our cat, Tahtee, in a basket (she doesn’t like walking through the snow) and headed up the hill to The Hermitage that Jeff built a few years ago. He aligned it to face the winter sun and, at the Solstice, the setting sun shines directly center (see top photo). We sat at watched as the sun moved toward the horizon and then slowly disappeared. The shadowed land turned a beautiful blue as we headed back to the house.

The Solstice sun set, Yellow in a pale blue sky, hovering over the ridge, hesitant to set, The Hermitage aligns, with this setting sun, our own version of Stonehenge, We sit and wait, the icy water of the creek flows beneath us, We emerge tomorrow, a little brighter, a new year, a chance to remake ourselves once again.

I hope you found and find your own way to bring in the new year. One that feels right and good and filling for you. I’d love to hear how you celebrate so please share in the comments when you get a chance. Enjoy these longer days and starry nights!

Happy Holidays!

With Love, Suzanne

P.S. It’s not too early to start thinking about your plans for the new year! The 2020 schedule is up for the Women’s Gardening Apprenticeship with me. Check it out at my website wildmoonhomesteading.com and share with friends. Happy winter!

Suzanne Johnson

I live with my husband, Jeff (jeffjosephwoodworker.com) on 34 beautiful acres in upstate New York. We share the dream of living "the good life" as described by Helen and Scott Nearing in their book by the same title. We have been refining that process at this location since 2003. I've been practicing the art of living well and close to Mother Earth with the help of teachers such as Tom Brown Jr., Carlos Castaneda, Lynn Andrews, John Jeavons, Scott & Helen Nearing, Jon Young and many herbalists including my first teacher Donna d'Terra. Join me as the adventure continues on many levels...