of old rituals and new sacrifices

Finally, daylight has shrunk so much it can't shrink any further; something that can't be said for Sam's wool socks drying behind the stove.

Finally, daylight has shrunk so much it can’t shrink any further; something that can’t be said for Sam’s wool socks drying behind the stove. Doing laundry in the winter, by hand, inside, without running water, is too disagreeable a job to bother with finer details such as sorting things by colour and preferred water temperature. This accounts for the pinkish undertone in what was once white underwear and for blue wool socks mottled with grey spots where the colour has leached out, and along with the colour, a good portion of their size.

A strange phenomenon: usually it works the other way round, the socks stretch beyond reason, forming little sausages like fabric bumpers in front of my toes. That’s alright because the felt liners of my winter gum boots are worn thin, making the boots a bit too large if it weren’t for the malformed socks. Such is the great equalizing force of the universe, where everything ends up in balance in the end, or so I tell myself. Judging by the small look of Sam’s shrunken socks, they will be mine once they’re dry – will that mean the sudden appearance of new liners to go with them? Maybe for Christmas.

We’ve become a bit antsy with all that cabin time enforced by so much darkness, even though Sam has been extending his outdoor time by chopping firewood in the late afternoon, his headlamp’s beam of light twitching nervously up and down as he whacks at the wood with the axe. The slow-motion dawn and dusk that condense for a few brief hours into actual light are at long last beginning to pull apart again, albeit with the reluctance of old chewing gum at first – until they gather momentum, rushing apart like quarrelling lovers only to reunite next year, at the same time, the same place. Here and now, where we’re celebrating this shortest gasp of a day and longest yawn of a night.

Sam and I are offering up our last orange butternut squash to the solstice by way of our bellies, the cold and darkness pressing in through the window panes and log walls. Little glaciers of frozen condensation, furry with frost, adorn two of the windows. We’ve unearthed extra candles for the occasion, leaving our lonely LED light and the oil lamps turned off. A welcome splurge, this candle extravaganza: the 12V battery that powers the LED light is running low and recharging it during a cold snap involves heating the sauna for the temperature-sensitive generator. Also, we’re low on kerosene for the lamps or so it seems; but it looks like that every year in December when just running an IV of fuel to the lamps appears to be the most sensible choice. Mid-February usually finds me shaking my head at how much kerosene we still have.

Sam and I wonder idly what it would be like to live at the equator, oblivious to the bipolar moods of the planet in its divergent seasons, everyday neatly sorted into 12 hours of darkness and 12 hours of light. There would be the rainy season to consider, sure, but you could take a punctual sunrise as a given. No urge for these little rituals of food and light to make the sun come back.

I miss such old wisdom about the Earth, the perceived necessity of offerings, fasts and feasts, human rites to ensure that everything stays in balance, everything is honoured. The only connection with the Earth that modern society seems to have left is money, the wondrous thing that secures light, food, shelter and water nowadays. How many dollars is a polar bear worth, how many dollars the Peel Watershed, never mind Christmas itself. Nothing has value if it can’t be turned into money, and so we treat it as such. The intrinsic value of life seems to have long slipped by the wayside.

Even if we still light up this darkest time of the year with candles among our shrunken socks and other ornaments, we are beyond the other, older rituals, past making sacrifices for the Earth. We have rid ourselves of the silly superstition that anything of that kind is needed. But then again – maybe not quite. How else to pacify climate change than with some sacrifices?

Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.

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