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each year my friends and I get together for a solstice campfire
The wind blew hard and cold in December and January, and just in case you weren’t ready for the cold, it settled in like a new unfriendly neighbor, and made itself at home, piercing the gaps under the door, and moaning outside the window at night. We burned the wood stove for the whole month, and were grateful for the hard oak, Boise de arc, and pecan wood we had cut along the creek, making a friendly fire. Papa and I doubled up on the hay for the cows and they were gratefully greedy, with snow on their backs, tearing up the bales as soon as they hit the ground. We had a few new calves, but they seemed to be healthy, full of optimism and mama’s milk, hopping and running in the snow. They stay down along the creek hidden in the cedars out of the wind, but as soon as they hear the truck, they come running. I’m sure the buffalo did the same, as well as the Indians. Celebrating the winter solstice, as we have done every year now for four years I went down to the creek with two of my best friends and built a fire. The wind scoured the tree tops above us, but the flames rose quiet and undisturbed. We savored the heat and the conversation. The big oaks towered above us black against the bright stars, like pillars in a quiet church, and we wondered at our insignificance, and our survival in this world of cold and darkness, wind and uncertainty. It is where families, friendship and faith are born, on nights such as these. The Mayans prayed and sacrificed for the coming light. The Europeans prayed for the coming spring and the end of the winter darkness. All feared the darkness and prayed for one more spring, for thousands of years; as we did that solstice night. And the stars looked down upon us wise, cold, and unmoved by our prayers. And then the hoot owls reassured us, and fire spit sparks into the cold, and we laughed and knew that somehow we would survive. And even if we don’t see another spring, we are part of the circle of things, sharing our journey, and holding on to the small joys of life like a warm fire, and a good conversation. You can look up on the hill at the old buffalo wallows and wonder at the last buffalo that laid there seeing the sunset across the endless prairie. Was it the last time the buffalo will ever wander free? Are our plans and fences so permanent now that those days will never be seen again on this earth? Are our monuments so permanent? That night by the fire I wondered at the surety of our existence. I allowed myself to question every bastion of faith. Civilizations come and go as it did for the Mayans and Aztecs. Did they look at their pyramids and feel reassured of the coming spring? Or did they allow themselves to wonder and feel their faith slip just a little in the dark days of winter? It is easy to let your mind fly away among the stars for a little while on a dark solstice night by the fire, and as it died down, we turned inward and tried to answer our own questions. I found more questions than answers. It is good though to mark the time in such ways. It is good to come face to face with the cold wind and the impassive stars. It is good to question yourself, and your faith in things. If another spring comes my way I vow not to waste it building monuments, but share the joy of life with the calves running in the pasture, and watch the sunsets like the buffalo up on the hill. And I promise to share my faith with my children, so that some lonely winter solstice, they will know how to build a fire, and find fellowship and comfort in their long winter night.
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