ENTHUSIASM: GREETING THE WINTER SOLSTICE

We had to be up early this morning. Rumors to the contrary notwithstanding, we old folks are not early birds. We go to bed late after we run out of movies and Netflix specials and sleep in. For me, that’s until Bonnie decides she has waited long enough and starts to bark. And keeps barking until I put in an appearance. Normally, I try to get away with handing out one biscuit then going back to catch another hour or so of sleep, but we had to be up this morning. Not as early as Bonnie wanted us up, however. She’s a dawn dog.

Winter Solstice - Sunrise

Winter Solstice – Sunrise

So, when the barking penetrated the fog of my sleepy brain, the sun was just rising. Coincidentally, I just happened to have my camera at hand. And today is the winter solstice in this latitude, so these are the dawn of the solstice rising behind the woods in New England. If you are interested in some meteorology factoids about the solstice, the Boston Globe had a good article this morning.

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Other holidays celebrated (now or in the past) on the winter solstice include: Blue Christmas (holiday), Brumalia (Ancient Rome), Dongzhi Festival (Asia), Korochun (Slavic), Sanghamitta Day (Theravada Buddhism), Shalako (Zuñi), Yaldā (Iran), Yule in the Northern Hemisphere (Neopagan), Ziemassvētki (ancient Latvia). It’s the shortest day of Earth’s year. The long hours of cold and dark simply scream out to “do something to cheer yourselves up!” This is where enthusiasm comes in: you really need to party hearty when the world is cold and dark for 15 hours a day.

Of course, if you live in the southern hemisphere, you are wearing flip-flops. having a barbecue on the beach, and complaining about the heat. Never underestimate the power of a tilted planet.

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A note: We’ll be offline most of the day. Stuff to do. Actually, we’ll be out most of tomorrow, too. The season has finally caught up with us and all the things I have procrastinated and left undone are demanding attention. Happy holidays, one and all! Don’t despair: the sun is on its way back. From here on, days will be longer and brighter. Odin only gets to keep old Sol for a brief interval.

ENTHUSIASM | THE DAILY POST

THINKING ABOUT THINKING

I have no doubt my dogs think. They have a short-term version of planning and will work together to accomplish a goal. Like opening a gate — or dismembering a toy. Surely they would hunt together if they had something to hunt. Dogs are, after all, pack animals.

They communicate. We watch them. They sit silently staring into each other’s eyes. Then they get up, together, and go out to bark, or to the kitchen to remind us they need to eat, now please. I suspect they believe we won’t remember to feed them unless they remind us.

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What forms do their thoughts take? They don’t use words. Even though they understand some words if we use them, I doubt that’s how they form ideas. So they must employ their other senses. How much is visual? Do they also think in sound and scent? It’s obvious they know what they want. They can be remarkably clever and creative in getting it … but how can they plan with no words?

Now and again, I try to “think” without words. I always fail. Inevitably, anything in my head comes with narration, conversation, and a lot of subtext.

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Dolphins and whales talk to each other in some version of language, but words used human-style is apparently species-specific. We can teach other creatures to understand and sometimes even use words, but it’s unnatural for them. Only people need words. It’s not only how we communicate, it’s inherent to our understanding of our world. It’s the way we categorize everything, remember anything.

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Ideas and concepts can’t exist without words. Language has the hooks on which we hang everything, real and conceptual. We are the only species that needs a spoken language and the only one that writes. Along with the opposable thumb, it’s how we rule the earth.

If we were to lose our languages, we would probably lose it all. I don’t think thumbs would save us.

THE CHANGING SEASONS – EARLY WINTER – DECEMBER 2016

THE CHANGING SEASONS: DECEMBER 2016

Evangelical church on the common after dark in December

Evangelical church on the common after dark in December

You never know about December. We’ve had some of our most memorable blizzards this month. I remember one storm, when we still lived in Boston. It hit in early December and dropped 22 inches on the city. Other years, different winters, we have had no measurable snow until late January or February. And, just to confuse the issue, every four or five years, we have a winter with no snow or nearly none. It all depends on the prevailing winds, the polar vortex, and the positioning of Santa’s sleigh in the arctic. Most important is whether or not we are ready for winter to arrive. If we aren’t, an early hard winter is guaranteed.

Our house. After I took this, I realized that we have lived here for almost 17 years and this is the first time I've shot a night photograph of our house.

After I shot this, I realized we’ve lived here almost 17 years — yet this is the first time I’ve photographed our house after dark

I have discovered a direct correlation between how much money you spend on snow removal equipment and how much snow will fall that season. If you spend big money and get a powerful snowblower or tractor that will easily tackle four-foot drifts on the bunny slope we optimistically call “our driveway,” your odds of getting no snow deeper than three inches increases exponentially.

If you spend more than $1500, you may get two back-to-back winters without any appreciable snow. You can bribe weather gods. I have no idea what they do with the money. Do they hang out on the sunny beaches of Jamaica or Waikiki? If I were a winter weather god, those would be my top two choices.

The rectory of the Evangelical church on Uxbridge common

The rectory of the Evangelical church on Uxbridge common

On the other hand, if you love winter sports, you can trick the gods and assure proper snow depths by not buying any snow-clearing equipment. All you need to do is go into the winter snow season completely unprepared. Extra points for failing to switch to snow tires. This will certainly guarantee a blizzard of (almost) epic proportions.

Is this real? True? I’m sure you can find it on Facebook. You can always find the Truth on social media.

Uxbridge Common at night ... just before Christmas with lights.

Uxbridge Common at night … just before Christmas with lights

Last year’s winter was very mild and so far, this season, we’ve had only one dusting plus a modest little snow that melted the following day. No great heaps of snow. It has been very cold and other places not far from here have gotten considerably more winter weather than us. I believe this is because last year, we finally gave in and bought a four-wheel-drive Jeep. For the amount of money it cost, we may get as many as three mild winters.

Snow in the woods in December

Snow in the woods in December

I was trying to find a single picture that screamed “December.” But this month, I bought (second-hand, but in perfect condition) a terrific Leica f1.4 lens for my Olympus OM-D. It’s the lens for night photography.

Last summer's chrysanthemums linger as the season's first snow falls

Last summer’s chrysanthemums linger as the season’s first snow falls

I also got the Topaz Simplify 4 filter set. This has skewed my photographic endeavors in the direction of artistic and experimental rather than my more typical realism. I hope you like the results. I’m having so much fun with combinations of filters, I felt compelled to show off at least of few of them to you. What I like best about this kind of photography is that it is like painting. It’s not just things as they are or were, but as I see them in my mind’s eye.

Bonnie watches the snow falling.

Bonnie watches snow falling

Finally, I could not choose only one photograph. Here is 2016 through all the changing seasons.

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See you all on the flip side of the calendar. Cardinal Guzman has kindly offered to host this challenge again in 2017, so I will look forward to viewing all your beautiful pictures next year.

Enjoy the holiday and the season!

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