Almanac: Happy Solstice!

Sunrise over the winter solstice standing stone of the UMass Sunwheel. I took this several days before the actual solstice but the position of the sun at sunrise moves so little near the solstice that the alignment was nearly perfect.

The summer solstice always comes too early for me. It always feels wrong somehow that the days start growing shorter on June 20 or 21. The winter solstice, however, always cheers me and comes not a moment too soon. As much as I love winter sports, and winter itself, I am always glad that on December 20 or 21 (the date varies from year to year) the days begin to lengthen again.

We are now on the brightening side of the winter solstice and many are celebrating (or have already celebrated) various traditions, all of which involve the central theme of light. The candles, bonfires, Christmas tree lights, and vast range of lights used to decorate homes all hearken back to the earliest roots of this time when the sun pauses in its southward descent in the sky and begins to shift northwards again, bringing longer days and shorter nights.

I’ll be celebrating the return of light with a hoard of family members, so instead of a normal column I’m going to post some photos I took over the course of the year that never made it into a column. Almanac will resume its quirky ways in 2022. Blessings and best wishes to you all!

These are the fruiting bodies of a type of slime mold called Hemitrichia stipitata. Slime molds are fascinating and deserve an entire column. Here I’ll just mention that these tiny balls formed from a gelatinous goo that has the ability to move across surfaces like an amoeba. The balls only last a day or two before dissolving, so I was happy to see them this fall. Photo: Stephen Braun
Winterberry is a native species of holly that adds a lovely splash of color to the monotone hues of late fall and early winter. Photo: Stephen Braun
Turkey tail fungus is very common around here. It’s inedible but often very pretty with bands of color laid down over several years of growth, sort of like tree rings. Photo: Stephen Braun
I have no idea what kind of millipede this is, but I love the look of it. The fact that it’s so flashy probably means this fella tastes really terrible, in the same way the flamboyance of Monarch butterflies is a warning to birds that they’ll be sorry if they eat one. Photo: Stephen Braun
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