Your correspondent models a homemade bird mask inspired by the pagan-tradition solstice celebrations of Penzance, England.
SATURDAY’S WINTER SOLSTICE REMINDED ME: I just love living next door to Lopez Island.
We had a little solstice observance at The Nuthatch on Saturday evening. Neighbors John and Carol came over. We dug out the solstice masks we made a few years ago after daughter Lillian had returned from a winter in England, where she attended Montol, the solstice festival in Penzance, where Cornwall pokes into the Atlantic like a finger into an eye. (Geography nerd’s digression: It’s next door to my favorite-named English town, Mousehole, which Lil tells us the locals pronounce as “Mouzel.”)
Penzance, where Gilbert and Sullivan based their “Pirates of Penzance” operetta, has revived the pagan tradition of celebrating the shift of seasons and the beginning of longer days with masked revelers parading the streets, led by someone called the Lord of Misrule. There are massive bonfires, street dancing and merriment throughout the town every December 21st.
Our Center Island celebration was staid by comparison. John and I, the charter members of the Center Island Writer’s Guild, both have a fondness for John Steinbeck, and last night we sipped hot cider laced with applejack (Steinbeck’s favorite quaff) and read aloud from the works of one of our favorite poets, Robert Frost, whose writing often reflected an appreciation of the grand solemnity of winter. (“My little horse must think it queer, to stop without a farmhouse near, between the woods and frozen lake, the darkest evening of the year…”)
We burned a traditional yule log, marked with the date and drawn with a stick figure representing Father Time, to signify the passing of the year. We ate Barbara’s lovely, rich pot du creme au chocolat and Carol’s perfectly piquant cranberry bread.
As the hour and minute of the official change of seasons approached, we carried a lit candle out into the dark to look up at the stars. And at precisely 8:19 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, when the sun’s path across the sky officially began to track back northward for the return of longer days, someone on Lopez Island, less than a mile across the water from us, set off fireworks. The quiet night erupted with booms and bangs, as if it was midnight on New Year’s Eve.
I’ve never experienced fireworks anywhere else on the winter solstice. But this is an island whose most common event on the weekly community calendar is yoga sessions, along with tai chi, zumba and something called “Ecstatic Dance.”
It’s lovable, lefty Lopez, and it made me smile. Happy solstice.