Solstice Sunset

Powhatan Creek at sunset on Winter Solstice.

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Today we celebrate the Winter Solstice, that time of year when days are short and nights are long.  Our day in Williamsburg, Virginia, began at 7:17 AM with sunrise, and ended at 4:53 PM as the sun set.  Our day was nine hours and 36 minutes long today.

But, as I look at a table of sunrise and sunset times, I notice that yesterday, and everyday since last Sunday, has been exactly the same length.  The difference is that the sunrise was a minute or two later, but so was the sunset!  In fact,  our earliest sunset of the year, at 4:49 PM, occurred on December 2 this year.  The sun has been setting a minute or two later each day since the 12th, when sunset occurred at 4:50 PM.

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Sunrise continues to come a bit later each day.  Today the sun rose at 7:17, but by Saturday it will rise at 7:18, and on Christmas Monday it  won’t appear until 7:19 AM.  The sun will continue rising a bit later each morning until December 31,  when it rises at 7:21 AM.

It isn’t until the 13th of January that the rising sun reverses itself and comes up a minute earlier, at 7:20.  By January 13, the day will have grown to nine hours and 50 minutes, as the sun is setting at 4:50 once again.

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Each day between now, and December 27, will continue on at exactly nine hours and 36 minutes.  That means that we will have a run of 11 days of ‘the shortest day of the year,’ of only nine hours and 36 minutes of daylight.  As the sun sets a minute later, so the sun also rises a minute later, in perfect choreography, until December 28, when the day grows by a minute to nine hours and 37 minutes at last.  On New Year’s Day, our daylight will have grown to nine hours and 38 minutes, with sunrise at seven 21 and sunset at 4:59.

Perhaps this very long run of short days and worsening weather is why we need the brightness of the  holidays to cheer our souls and help us through this extended period of darkness.  I feel grateful for every light display I see along the way, as darkness gathers in late afternoon, and the wind bites with cold.

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I relish these early evenings, too.  Watching the sky turn bright with sunset color, and seeing our beautiful trees silhouetted against the deepening sky is a breathtakingly beautiful way to end our day.  Except it isn’t the end of the day, is it?

The early sunset may send us indoors, but we enjoy the long, quiet winter evenings together.  We may hear the owls calling to one another in the ravine.  I make tea, fix snacks, and work on holiday chores.   I paint and sculpt, read and crochet.  It may be long past midnight before I give up the day for sleep, knowing that morning will dawn quite late on the morrow!

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We are in the darkest part of the year: Yule.  And that has been amplified this week with the new moon on Monday.  Settling comfortably into darkness, we gather with friends and loved ones, forming our intentions and making our wishes in anticipation of the year’s turning and return of longer days of sunlight.

Some light a Yule log and keep it burning until the days grow longer once again.  Some light candles to warm winter’s long nights, or light lamps.  Here, we string Christmas lights and enjoy their nightly glow.  We keep them up and burning deep into January, when we can feel the year has turned and days have grown longer once again.

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Tonight, we went out to watch the Solstice sunset.  We left soon after four, camera in hand, and enjoyed a beautiful late afternoon drive on the Colonial Parkway.  We were driving west towards Jamestown, and the sun was brightly blazing even as it dipped towards the horizon before us.  I had to wear my shades and still shield my eyes against its intensity.

We may have made a detour…. there may have been mint ice cream involved…

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Suffice it to say, we were running a bit close when we headed back to the Parkway to photograph the setting sun.  Seconds count, and that fiery orb had already dipped below the James River before we were in position.  But the sky was still ablaze, and the new moon hanging in a pristine sky, growing brighter with each passing minute.

Winter Solstice is one of my favorite days of the year.  We have celebrated this day since my own little one was tiny, with special food, and gifts, and music and merry-making.  It marks the passage from weeks of preparation to conscious celebration of the waning of one year and fresh beginnings of the next.  I envy friends born on this special day, and always keep it as the beginning of our Christmas celebrations.

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My mind turns to The Holly King of legend, who shines brightly in our barren, wintery woods.  Aglow in bright red berries, hollies shine through mist and snow and gloomy winter days.  Winter is their prime time, when the oaks and other hardwoods have gone dormant and dropped their leaves.

I wish you a happy Solstice and a Merry Yule.

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These are special days, and I hope you keep them well.  With love shining brightly in our hearts, we journey through these last days of 2017 and find our way into a new solar year.  May peace and happiness journey with you, and may 2018 offer you fresh possibilities, new opportunities and abundant joy.

Woodland Gnome 2017

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The James River

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Winter Storm

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A winter storm blankets the East Coast of the United States today from the Gulf to New England.  After a mostly balmy fall, we are a bit surprised by this early snow.

Thus far, we’ve been to the east of the rain snow line, which means we woke up this morning to a light slush gathered on the porch furniture and on our cars; but otherwise, cold rain.   Friends and family living west of us woke up to ice and inches of snow, with more still falling today.

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It is a good day to remain indoors, keeping an eye on the birds and the garden from the windows.  All of this wet will freeze this evening as temperatures dip below freezing.

I brought in a few of the last hold-outs of potted plants before dusk yesterday.  I found a few more inches here and there for pots, and dug up a couple of little hold-out Begonias.  I finally simply tugged a still blooming geranium out of its pot by the kitchen door.  It came with enough roots that I tucked it into a pot with a little soil, wished it well, and wedged  it in with other potted geraniums in our garage.

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Still blooming by the kitchen door yesterday…

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There is nothing like impending ice and snow to force those last decisions about which plants can come indoors to survive the winter.

But as the weather turns outdoors, a friend and I are finishing up our collaboration on ‘fairy tree’ vignettes.  While I have sculpted and mounted the trees, she has been sculpting and placing a fascinating collection of miniatures to bring our vignettes to life.

She has already created a flock of cardinals and parliament of owls.  Male and female, she has sculpted and painted them.

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In addition to the birds, she has also sculpted a sleeping cat, ice skates, boots, rabbits, gnomes, mushrooms and assorted gardening tools.  It is quite amazing to see how the little vignettes come to life under her meticulous care and vibrant imagination.  I spent a happy afternoon with her this week exploring the finished vignettes, and collaborating on those still in progress.

I expect to photograph all of the finished vignettes on Monday afternoon, as we place them as centerpieces for a luncheon coming this week.

This gnarly weather simply must turn mild again for the early part of the week, so that we can enjoy this long anticipated gathering of friends!

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Today I’m showing you the last in this series of trees, finished earlier this week.  Imagine it as it is now with bright red cardinals feeding on the ground, and the boss cardinal keeping watch over them from his perch in the tree.

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I hope our friends will enjoy seeing these fairy trees surrounded with ‘wildlife’;  and that you will, too, when I post the photos next week.

As our garden slips into its winter slumber, the mediums of metal, stone and clay feel appropriate for capturing the illusion of an enchanted forest, so we can enjoy it in comfort-  indoors.

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The stones used to mount the fairy trees have a special meaning for me. My daughter and I picked them up while walking together along the beaches of her coastal Oregon town, back in October.   I brought them home with this project in mind.   She kept the rest of our collection to use in her own garden.   The crystals are specially treated quartz.   The trees are made from a variety of wires of different gauges and metal content.

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Woodland Gnome 2017
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WPC: Solitude

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“If our friendship depends on things like space and time,

then when we finally overcome space and time,

we’ve destroyed our own brotherhood!

But overcome space, and all we have left is Here.

Overcome time, and all we have left is Now.

And in the middle of Here and Now,

don’t you think that we might

see each other once or twice?”

.

Richard Bach

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“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more”

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George Gordon Byron

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Solitude

 

 

Wednesday Vignettes: Rhythm

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“Night follows day; and day night.

The pendulum swings from Summer to Winter,

and then back again.

The corpuscles, atoms, molecules,

and all masses of matter,

swing around the circle of their nature.

There is no such thing as absolute rest,

or cessation from movement,

and all movement partakes of Rhythm.

 The Universal Pendulum is ever in motion.

The Tides of Life flow in and out, according to Law.”

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The Kybalion

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“Nothing stands still –

everything is being born, growing, dying –

the very instant a thing reaches its height,

it begins to decline –

the law of rhythm is in constant operations….”

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The  Kybalion

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

 

 

Grace

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Graceful

Effortless harmony

Fluid movement

Elegance in motion.

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Graceful beauty

Attracts our notice…..

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Holds our attention;

Mesmerizes.

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A spontaneous meditation

On the beauty of this world,

Nature’s portal to peace:

Grace

May be found within

and without….

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Gracefully, gratefully,

We join the dance eternal.

We feel nature’s rhythms of wind and wing,

wobble and wave.

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Gracefully, we flow in at-oneness

with our world,

Breathing, becoming, bestowing,

Grace.

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Woodland Gnome 2017

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“Grace is what picks me up

and lifts my wings high above and I fly!

Grace always conquers!

Be graceful in everything;

in anger, in sadness,

in joy, in kindness, in unkindness,

retain grace with you!”


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C. JoyBell

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For the Daily Post’s

Weekly Photo Challenge:  Graceful

Wednesday Vignette: Winter Sun

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“One can follow the sun, of course,

but I have always thought

that it is best to know some winter, too,

so that the summer, when it arrives,

is the more gratefully received.”

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Beatriz Williams

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“But only a person in the depths of despair

neglected to look beyond winter to the spring

that inevitably followed,

bringing back color and life and hope.”

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Mary Balogh

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“A moment of peace and silence,

breathing in and out the frigid air,

watching daylight seep into the forest,

hearing the first chatter of distant crows,

the wind sighing over the snow

and through the fir and pine branches

and the twittering of chickadees

as they flitted in little tribes from tree to tree.”


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Mike Bond

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2017

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Gathering Dusk and A Christmas Tree

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Light fades slowly from the winter sky, blushing, as the sun eases below the horizon.

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Late afternoon found us at Colonial Williamsburg on Christmas day.  I wanted to photograph the huge Christmas tree, ablaze with lights, that we had found the evening before.

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We were out on Christmas Eve enjoying the lights in our part of town, when we spotted a blazing tree, covered in white lights, visible from Francis Street.

And I vowed to return, camera in hand, to photograph it in all its brilliance at dusk.

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And so I lingered nearby, watching colors shift in the evening sky as lights popped on against the gathering dusk.  But the Christmas tree remained unlit.

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My partner parked and eventually joined me.  And we waited together as the minutes crept past.

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We watched a silent flock of geese glide overhead.

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Clouds glowed bright, illuminated by a sun no longer visible from where we stood, moving ever further beyond the horizon.

But the Christmas tree remained dark, melting into the shadows of the coming night.

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We began walking towards our car, shivering now in the evening chill.  Slowly, hoping for a flash of sudden brightness to draw us back, we covered the blocks of the old town still filled with visitors and costumed staff.

But the only lights greeting us flickered in windows and on lamp posts.

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And though a little disappointed to have missed the photo I hoped to take, we were glad to be a part of the community in this place and on this special night.

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It was the following evening when we found the tree lit again in all its glowing glory.  We had been away all day, and drove to the tree on our way home.  It was already long past dusk when we arrived, but the Christmas tree was lit, and I hopped out while my partner circled the block.

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One feels the weight of years and lives here most at night.  Shades of those long gone from daylight still linger in the shadows near these historic places.

The elder trees, still growing, hold memories, too; as they stretch their protective branches over the land.

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But the blazing Christmas tree drew me ever closer, and I set off alone across the field.   Others were gathering around it too, basking in the warmth and comfort of its lights.

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In this season we celebrate the power of the light.  We reaffirm our deep belief in the powers of goodness and love to push back against the gathering and ever-present darkness of our  world.

We know there is an ever shifting balance between darkness and light; greed and generosity; kindness and anger;  love and ambivalence.

And all of these forces live and shift within each one of us; none of us is beyond their power.

But it is always ours to choose; to seek the light, even when we must walk through the darkness to find it.   And as we journey ever closer to the light, we find good company sharing the walk with us; so that we are never left alone in the darkness.

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Woodland Gnome 2016

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“It is neither wealth nor splendor,

but tranquility and occupation which give happiness.”
.

Thomas Jefferson

Perseverance

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When we are aware that each moment of each day,

each gesture and step we take,

is truly mystical and full of wonder,

we will live our lives with greater thought and care.

We will also have greater respect and appreciation

for the lives of others.

.

Daisaku Ikeda

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Photos by Woodland Gnome 2016

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We must put down firm roots; we must be strong.
Inner strength is a prerequisite for happiness,
a prerequisite for upholding justice and one’s beliefs.
One of the Buddha’s titles is “He Who Can Forbear.”
To courageously endure, persevere and overcome all difficulties-
-the Buddha is the ultimate embodiment of the virtue of forbearance.
The power of faith gives us the strength to weather and survive any storm.
Perseverance is the essence of a Buddha.

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Daisaku Ikeda
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Our A Forest Garden 2017 gardening calendar is filled with photos taken in our garden over the past year. 

To order a copy, write to me at woodlandgnome@zoho.com

 

December Rainbow

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Our sky remained low and white much of the day.   A ‘snow sky;’  but since we were well above freezing, we knew it promised only rain.  Drizzle, actually.  And mist.

It was already late afternoon and dusk had settled.  We’d opened the pile of packages our UPS driver brought.

I was working with photos at the computer, slipping peacefully into another ‘long winter’s night’ when my partner called to me.  “Is your camera ready?”

That always means he sees something worth capturing.  I followed his voice to the windows by our deck, amazed at the warm golden light of sunset bathing every twig and branch of our surrounding trees.  Sunlight?

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He had seen the light, and called me out to photograph our winter sunset.  Warm golden peach filled the sky beyond our windows, and I opened the slider to step out and capture the moment.

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But wait, it was still pouring rain!

The setting sun shone through a crack in the clouds to our west, illuminating the pond below our home.

It dazzled the trees, reflected golden against the clouds, and created a huge perfect rainbow in our eastern sky.

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We could see the entire arc of the rainbow rising from the trees to our north, and disappearing in the trees to the south.

Every band of color shown clearly and it all hovered there, determined and bright, through the falling rain.

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What a gift.  What a moment. 

We stood out in the rain as the colors deepened in the west.  Soft peach intensified to bright white gold, then faded into shades of fiery orange .

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But the rainbow remained.

And it hung there still, witness to the setting winter sun, even after we retreated back into the warmth inside.

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Woodland Gnome 2015

Winter Sun

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Winter sun:

Blue returned to frosty sky,

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Glinting off garden’s evergreens,

Warmth pouring through the windows

Taunting us outside.

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The birds reappeared at sunrise,

Gliding tree to tree,

Breaking their fast on fat frozen berries.

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Calling and chattering they praised the fine day,

Glad to have stayed here awhile,

Glad for sun warming feet and feathers.

 

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Winter’s wind still blows so cold

Despite sun’s optimistic shininess.

 

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We raced the sun today;

Its trek from horizon to horizon so low and quick.

Its golden light so brief before night settled once again.

We savored each hour like good chocolate.

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Setting again by only mid-afternoon.

Gilding the trees in gold,

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Transforming the forest to a tapestry of bright and shadow.

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Glinting off water,

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Dyeing the sky bright yellow, pink, and orange.

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Briefly blazing before bowing down again

Below the rim of the world;

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Leaving gathering purple darkness in its wake;

Moon still not risen,

Stars glimmering like ice crystals in a frozen sky,

Cold blows in from the river.

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A damp blanket of darkness descends into the garden.

Light and warmth retreat inside.

We twist on electric candle flames in each window,

Tiny golden lights against the night.

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Words and Photos by Woodland Gnome 2014

 

 

 

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