By John Palka — Posted December 13, 2020
For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is approaching. The days are gradually getting shorter while the dark of the nights is lasting longer. After December 21st, the shortest day of the year, the days will start to lengthen again, at first imperceptibly and then more noticeably.
The Winter and Summer Solstices, and the Vernal and Autumnal Equinoxes in between, are among the many signs that our planet is a dynamic, everchanging setting for life. Our Earth is embedded in a dynamic solar system, and the cycles of the Sun and the Moon are constantly present in our awareness. The solar system, in turn, is embedded in a dynamic galaxy. We may not be aware of it, but the entire Milky Way, with its many arms, spins around a giant black hole and races through the Universe. Our planetary home is within one of those giant spinning arms.
Many manifestations of this celestial dynamism are part of our daily experience. Ask yourself:
- Why do we have an endless cycle of days and nights? Because our Earth rotates round and round on its north-south axis.
- Why do we have an annual cycle of seasons? And why are the seasons reversed when we pass from the Northern to the Southern Hemisphere? Because as the Earth rotates around its own axis it also revolves around the Sun, and the axis of its rotation is tilted relative to the plane of its revolution around the Sun. It’s the tilt that underlies the existence of the seasons and their reversal across the equator.
- Why do many regions, perhaps most famously India, experience regular monsoons on which agriculture, and hence human life, depend so heavily? Because during the hot summer, the land heats faster than does the ocean. The air over the land also warms and therefore rises. This pulls the cooler, moister air—which had previously been over the ocean—over the land. This moister air now warms and rises. As it rises, the moisture in it forms clouds and, ultimately, it falls as rain. So, the tilt of the Earth’s axis, which generates the seasons, and the response of the air to differences in temperature, are the joint reasons for the monsoons on which so many people depend.
- Why do we have tides? Tides profoundly affect the lives of all organisms, including people, who live along the thousands of miles of coastline. The force that moves such massive quantities of water is primarily the gravitational attraction between the Moon and the Earth. As the Moon circles around the Earth, the place on the Earth’s surface that is closest to the Moon, and therefore experiences the greatest pull, keeps changing. In this way, the location of the highest water level on the Earth’s surface changes all the time and the water’s level in any single location changes correspondingly.
Nothing on the Earth is static. Everything changes, often in a cyclical way. Only the rate of change varies from process to process.
Many cultures over many generations, and indeed over millenia, have celebrated the passage of the seasons. The period leading up to the Winter Solstice has long been honored as a time of quiet, of turning inward. Come with me now and be open to what Nature herself offers us at this quiet time of the year.
Trees and shrubs are becoming quiescent . . .
. . . the forest floor is strewn with remnants of last summer’s exuberance.
Yet there is also a readiness to burst forth again, manifest in the buds.
The water is stilling, transforming into ice . . .
. . . and sometimes forming a heart of its own.
It’s a quiet time of year. It invites us to experience Nature with our own open hearts, and with an open, but also inward, eye.