When long nights are a good thing

On Tuesday night we tromped up to Muir Woods to celebrate the winter solstice. The park is free on the shortest day of the year, and the park rangers decorate the boardwalk pathways through the redwoods with luminarias, paper bags lit by L.E.D. lights. If you get there before sunset, you can hit up the craft table to make your own wreaths, get red "pajamas" for your flashlights to make them forest-friendly, and grab a cup of hot cocoa before the solstice caroling begins. There are shadow puppets and songbooks for solstice caroling, and the Morris Dancers perform a special dance, wearing antlers and mimicking the prances of deer and moose.

My favorite part of the evening is when the dancers lead the crowd into the woods. The trees are so dense and tall, and once the sun goes down and your eyes adjust to the darkness, the trail becomes everything you know. At one point the dancers stop and begin to sing, and it's an unearthly sound, as if they are sliding out of the trunk of a tree and bringing with it a harmony not heard anywhere else. My tolerance for Christmas carols is modest at best, and I really only enjoy them the week of Christmas. But these weren't carols; these were words sung in Latin under a beaded canopy of pine needles and rain. These words went beyond faith, and for me had less to do with a religious holiday, and more to do with a desire to express gratitude. Gratitude to be somewhere beautiful with people you love on the longest night of the year.

Muir Woods 12.21.09
Originally uploaded by Julia_h_j