Another solstice

I had a long conversation on the phone with Allen today. Remember Allen? He was the friend who accompanied me to Patagonia to spend the months of winter in a rather remote place. He’s feeling a bit nostalgic for the winter solstice we observed down there last June. He had found some discarded wooden pallets in the storage facility and broke them down to make a fire. It was quite a fire — and we used the leftover wood for a fire on July Fourth.

Allen has spent much of December rehanging Christmas lights that got blown down in recent storms at various family homes. He has found that if he keeps busy with strings of lights, he is less likely to get dragged to a mall — although one year, his wife forgot he was working up on the roof, and absent-mindedly took down the ladder and put it away before she drove off to the mall to do Christmas shopping. This was before he had a cell phone, and he couldn’t get any of the neighbors to hear him — so he was stuck up on the roof for five hours, unable to find any way to get down.

He has been busy with his chainsaw and has plenty of wood to take to another house for a fire on Christmas Eve, which is a HUGE occasion in his large extended family.

He’s very happy to hear that Alene is writing Zanda’s story — but disappointed that we still can’t find a way to be together. Allen is our one mutual friend — the only person who has known both me and Alene in Seattle. At times, he has been extremely sad for both of us. He wishes so much that we could be together for Christmas.

I joked that perhaps one day, we will end up on the same bus by accident — all three of us! He liked that — and added that we could then all go to the same bar!

These last six months went by far too fast….

Summer — from a distance

So the solstice has been and gone — and as we were celebrating the winter article down here, our thoughts turned more to Christmas and Halloween. We were rather overlooking July 4 until Alene had to start organizing her work calendar around the holiday being observed July 3. Then Allen was really pleased he hadn’t used all the fire materials at one go. He has collected more kindling and it’s had time to dry somewhat better. And he found another pallet to break down. So, next Saturday we plan a big breakfast of pancakes and syrup — after which we will set a July 4 bonfire to light as darkness falls.

We have no fireworks, of course. Allen is rather relieved not to have to be organizing fireworks for the family, most of whom live in an unincorporated area where fireworks are not illegal. He often drives around to the Indian reservations to try to find something novel — but in recent years they’ve been stolen, so he’s had to lock them up. The other problem is the late hour of sunset in the Seattle area — it doesn’t get fully dark until around 10pm. The family likes to fire up the barbecue at lunchtime, so there are many hours of waiting around to see the fireworks — hours during which certain people can drink too much beer and get obnoxious — and kids get tired and cranky. If you don’t keep the kids entertained, they get bored. And if you do entertain the kids, they get overstimulated. You can never quite strike the right balance!

And then summer heat can add to the stress. The forecast for next weekend is for temperatures in the mid-upper 90s F – that’s well over 30C for those of you living in the modern world. Then Allen also has to inflate paddling pools and keep them filled with water. And then dogs also get wet and run through dirt which then gets tracked into the house — making womenfolk angry. As he contemplated the holiday weekend weather forecast, he concluded he would rather be down here enjoying winter with a simple fire.

A perfect fire

Our winter solstice fire was modest — but rather perfect. Allen broke down three pallets, but wanted to save some wood for another fire sometime. We were also a bit worried that a major fire might get noticed from afar and bring unwanted visitors to investigate.

There are no trees here, just small shrubs and krummolz vegetation, so gathering material for kindling took some time. And what we did find was soggy from weeks of rain and wet snow, but it dried out enough for Allen to get the fire going without resorting to lighter fluid.

We built the fire immediately in front of our cabin where there was enough shelter from the wind. The place was shrouded in thick fog with the temperature hovering around freezing. We waited until dusk to start the fire and by the time it was fully dark, Allen had got a nice blaze going. I fixed us hot cocoa spiked with rum.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, Alene was contending with bright sunshine. She retired to the relative shade of her east-facing bedroom and lazed on her bed listening to a podcast of a BBC radio drama about a couple who fell in love writing each other letters during World War II while he was stationed in northern Africa. It was based on a true story and had a happy ending. After the war ended, the man returned to England and they were married. And after his army discharge, they enjoyed fifty-eight years of happy marriage.

On the morning of the summer solstice in 2002, I went over to West Seattle and walked along the waterfront. A couple of hours later, Alene walked the same path — and laughed with delight when she came across the miniature Stonehenge I had built from beach stones. 

It seems such a long time ago. Ah, well. Bumblebee.