December 22, 2009

As we do at each change of the season, we will devote tonight’s program to poetry, essay, story, and music focusing on the arrival of winter in these, the shortest days of the year.  In previous programs we’ve talked about the science and culture of winter solstice, so tonight we will focus more on what happens in winter, to people, to plants and animals, and to the earth itself.

Global Weather for December 23

We’ll start with the global weather.  What will tomorrow’s weather be around the world?  And depending on where you are, in the southern or the northern hemisphere, will you  be stuck in ice and snow or enjoying a day at the beach?

It’s not good beach weather in Moscow tomorrow.  The high will only 35 degrees farenheit, with and snow changing to rain. The overnight low will be 8 degrees.   The winter sun won’t appear until 8:38 am local time and will set at 3:58 pm, so Muscovites will have only 7 ½ hours of daylight.

In Sydney, Australia the other side of the world, you’ll have a high temperature  of 86 degrees and a balmy low of 68. The sun will come peeking in your bedroom windows at 5:38 am and won’t go down until 8:38 in the evening, giving you about 15 hours of daylight.

In Kabul, Afghanistan, there will be mostly sunny weather, but it’s cold, with a high of 34 degrees and a low of 15.  The sunrise and sunset are a lot like the Northstate, rising a little before 7 am and setting around 5 pm .

Way to the north and east of Afghanistan, in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia you won’t see the sun until almost 9 am, with sunset about five.  You’ll experience a mix of sun and clouds, but your high temperature will be a bone chilling 10 degrees and your overnight low minus 13 degrees fahrenheit.

At the other end of the globe, at Base Esperanza, Antarctica, it’s summer, but that means a high of only 37 degrees, low of 30, with rain mixed with snow.  Nevertheless, the sun comes up at 5:30 am and does not set until 2:04 am the next day, giving you almost 20 hours of sunshine.

In South America, you’re also enjoying the long days of summer, where Santiago, Chile, will have a lovely high of 77 degrees, a low of 48.  Rio will be even warmer, with a high of 88 and a low of 70, but you can expect Thundershowers.  One continent to the east, you can also expect thunder showers in Johannesburg, South Africa,  with high of 84 and a low of 62.

Back in the northern hemisphere, Beijing, China can expect cloudy skies, with a high of only 37 degrees and a low of 14.  Closer to the equator, but still in the northern hemisphere, Hanoi, Vietnam will be mostly sunny with a high of 59 and a low of 55.  You’re getting almost 12 hours of sunshine in Hanoi, with the days and nights of just about equal length.

And in Hawaii, USA, you also experience equal days and nights, about 11 ½ hours of sun. And because of its proximity to the equator, Hilo, where Susan’s brother, Mike lives, you’ll utmost in mellowness, a high of 73 and a low of 72, clear skies with a chance of misty rain.

Elsewhere in the United States, in the deep south, Eclectic, Alabama will be partly cloudy with a high of 57 and a low of 53

While in Deadhorse, Alaska, north of the Arctic Circle, where our daughter-in-law’s father works, the temperature is icy cold, with a low of 5 degrees farenheit and a high of only 10. The skies will be partly cloudy, but in terms of sunshine, Larry cannot expect a sunrise until next January 19—it’s dark 24 hours a day in Deadhorse.

You probably know from watching Monday night football that it’s mighty cold on the east coast of the U.S. and in Washington, D.C. they received a record 23 inch snowfall over the weekend.  But in sunny California, San Diego solstice weather is bright and sunny, a bit chilly, perhaps, with a high of 57 and a low of 45, but warming up for the PGA golf tour at Torrey Pines in a few weeks.

And lastly, as we complete our survey of the incredible range of temperatures and sunshine on the planet, here in the Northstate, on the valley floor we can expect sunny weather tomorrow, with an overnight low right at the freezing point, 32 degres, warming to a semi-comfortable 52 degrees by midday.  Of course, just a few miles up the road in the foothills, there is a freeze likely with a low of 28 and a high of 48.  And a few miles beyond that, in Lassen Park,  look for lows between 12 and 22 degrees, northeast winds 10-20 mph, with gusts up to 35.  Tomorrow the high will be 41, but those same winds will make it feel totally brisk.

Prose and Poetry About Winter

We are drawing on a compilation by poet Michael P. Garofalo of Valley Spirit Center, Red Bluff, on his Green Way Blog.

Of the cold and dark of winter, Ruth Stout writes:  “There is a privacy about it which no other season gives you …..  In spring, summer and fall people sort of have an open season on each other; only in the winter, in the country, can you have longer, quiet stretches when you can savor belonging to yourself.”

Henry Mitchell says: “Turn down the noise.  Reduce the speed.  Be like the somnolent bears, or those other animals that slow down and almost die in the cold season.  Let it be the way it is.  The  magic is there in its power.”

Dame Edith Sitwell agrees: “Winter is the time for comfort – it is the time for home.”

A 9th Century Irish poem reads:

“The stag bells, winter snows, summer has gone

Wind high and cold, the sun low, short its course

The sea running high.

Deep red the bracken; its shape is lost;

The wild goose has raised its accustomed cry,

Cold has seized the birds’ wings;

Season of ice, this is my news.”

George Meredith writes of the winter night sky:

“Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive

Leap off the rim of earth across the dome.

It is a night to make the heavens our home

More than the nest whereto apace we strive.

Lengths down our road each fir-tree seems a hive,

In swarms outrushing from the golden comb.

They waken waves of thoughts that burst to foam:

The living throb in me, the dead revive.

Yon mantle clothes us: there, past mortal breath,

Life glistens on the river of the death.

It folds us, flesh and dust; and have we knelt,

Or never knelt, or eyed as kine the springs

Of radiance, the radiance enrings:

And this is the soul’s haven to have felt.”

Winter in the High Sierra has also been a time of mortality. Many of us know a little of the ill fated Donner Party in 1848, but few know the full details.  Here’s the story as retold Warning: This story does describe some of the episodes involving cannibalism, which has brought the Donner Party such infamy. Read the full story at:  We also highly recommend reading the classic history of the Donner Party, George Stewart’s Ordeal by Hunger. It is also well worth a trip to the Donner Lake State Park museum, which documents the Donner party. There you can visit some of the sites where the cabin’s stood and look at a statue commemorating the Donners—that statue has a fourteen-foot base, which is the estimated level of snow at Donner lake that fateful winter of 1846.

Here’s a poem by Christina Rosetti’s poem, now the lyrics to a carol:

“In the bleak midwinter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter,

Long ago.”

In this next reading, Alice Walker helps us think about the earth as a whole, a place that humankind has sadly exploited, but a place where a spirit of Ecotopianism can help us not only survive, but live in harmony with nature.  This essay is entitled, “The Universe Responds, Or, How I Learned We Can Have Peace on Earth.” You can find it in At Home on the Earth: Becoming Native to Our Place, edited by David Landis Barnhill (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999, pp. 208-12).

And in the next group of readings, we focus on the Garden in Winter:

Here’s another poem, this about the garden throughout the year, by pre-Raphelite Christina Rosetti

“January cold and desolate;

February dripping wet;

March wind ranges;

April changes;

Birds sing in tune

To flowers of May,

And sunny June

Brings longest day;

In scorched July

The storm-clouds fly,


August bears corn,

September fruit;

In rough October

Earth must disrobe her;

Stars fall and shoot

In keen November;

And night is long

And cold is strong

In bleak December.”

Barbara Winkler reminds us that in December:  “Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a  miracle … a seed waiting to sprout, a bulb opening to the light, a  bud straining to unfurl.  And the anticipation nurtures our dream.”

And Winkler’s dream is echoed by Edna O’Brien, who writes:  “In a way Winter is the real Spring – the time when the inner things  happen, the resurgence of nature.”

Romanic poet John Keats writes:

“Shed no tear – O, shed no tear!

The flower will bloom another year.

Weep no more – O, weep no more!

Young buds sleep in the root’s white core.”

While an anonymous poet reminds us that California is different from many places, for:

“Still in bloom–

California flowers dance

to winter song”

Rosalie Muller Wright observes in Sunset Magazine:  “January is the quietest month in the garden.  …  But just because it looks quiet doesn’t mean that nothing is happening.  The soil, open to the sky, absorbs the pure rainfall while microorganisms convert tilled-under fodder into usable nutrients for the next crop of plants.  The feasting earthworms tunnel along,   aerating the soil and preparing it to welcome the seeds and bare roots to come.”

In Maine, Katherine White writes of snowbound times:  “From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens – the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind’s eye.”

Writing in 1895, Canon Ellacombe also spoke of gardents in the memory“And these memories and associations that our flowers give us are   independent of seasons or of age.  They come to us as well in autumn and winter, in spring and summer; and as to age, the older we get the more, from the very nature of things, do these memories increase and multiply.”

Katherine White talks of another form of mental gardening in winter:  “As I write, snow is falling outside my Maine window, and indoors all around me half a hundred garden catalogues are in bloom.”

And Hal Borland agrees:  “There are two seasonal diversions that can ease the bite of any winter.  One is the January thaw.  The other is the seed catalogues.”

In his book, The Sensuous Garden, Monty Don, explains:  “Winter is the season dominated by bare soil: the whole gardening cycle begins with the care and preparation of the earth during winter   so that it will feed plants the following year.  One of the things I enjoy about digging (and there are lots of things I enjoy about it) is the smell of the earth that is released by the spade cutting in and  lifting clods that have been buried for a year.  Not only does the  soil itself have a real scent, but the roots of the crop or plant – even weed – that has been growing there will also contribute to the  mix, creating something new out of the vague remnants of last season’ garden.

And Ruth Pitter writes of digging in her poetry collection, The Diehards:

“We go, in winter’s biting wind,

On many a short-lived winter day,

With aching back but willing mind

To dig and double dig the clay.”

Shakespeare, too, teaches appreciation of the winter moment:

“At Christmas, I no more desire a rose

Than wish a snow in May’s newfangled mirth;

But like each thing that in season grows.”

And his contemporary, Francis Bacon says:  “There ought to be Gardens for all Months in the year, in which,  severally, things of Beauty may be then in season.”

In his 16th century poem, Ode to the West Wind, John Davies calls on the winter winds to bring us spring:

“O thou,

Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low,

Each like a corpse within its grave, until

Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow

Her clarion o’er the dreaming earth.”

And Anne Bradstreet says simply:  “If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant.”

And we close our celebration of the winter solstice with this poem by California poet Ernest Trejo, from the California Humanities Council’s anthology: Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California’s Great Central Valley.

Autumn’s End

It begins when the TV mentions the name of my street,

Saying in passing that the woman next door has died.

Yes, the one whose name I never knew, the name

That even now escapes me. I will watch the leaves from her ash trees pile up all winter.

Now deer start to come down from the high country

To a place between snow and this valley lost in fog.

And my shaggy dog scuttles between rooms.

Then there’s the ants. When winter stumbles on them

They go under into their caves, tunnels,

And immense corridors.

And what happened to mosquitoes? Where have they gone with all the blood collected?

Now there’s a long peace in corners and basements

Where we won’t dare to step in,

Black widows nest there with their young.

Outside my window a few leaves hang on.

Doubting so many things I wait for winter.

Watergrass is sprouting everywhere, even on the ground where the nameless woman hides from winter.

Playlist for Ecotopia #65 Observing Winter

1. Winter Solstice Night        4:09  Dolmen    Winter Solstice

2. Winter Solstice        3:47  Michele Mclaughlin    Christmas – Plain & Simple

3. In The Winter’s Pale 3:38  Tim Story    Winter’s Solstice VI

4. Carol Of The Bells    2:40  Geshe Michael Roach & Mercedes Bahleda    A Christmas Kirtan

5. The Diamond Cutter Chant        5:00  Mercedes Bahleda    Path To Bliss

6. Michael Silvestri, Solstice Music

7.  Weave Me the Sunshine   4:28  Peter, Paul And Mary    The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary