December 2011

This is boxing day for us.  Yesterday was the actual boxing day, but we had two days of Christmas in a row; two days of unwrapping and the eating of grand festive meals.  Today we lazed about, cleaned up a bit, and relaxed for a time.  I sat for a few minutes in front of the bees.  This is something I have not done in quite a while as the bees have been quite inactive.  Today was mild enough to prompt one of the hives into some action.  Some foragers were heading back and forth, probably for water.  The other hive was all quiet and not bold enough to venture out into the winter.

The chickens got curious when as they watched me set up my tripod and take pictures of the cottage.  I took pictures from the front garden in a full circle.  After that I threw myself into the world of panoramic software to try and stitch them all together.  My head spun (a full 360 degrees) with all options and strange nomenclature of manipulating images on the computer.

Eventually I got it to work with the cottage sliced in two at either end of a full circle image.  Then I had to dig deep into the unknown again to turn the clouds transparent.  There was an intended purpose to all of this, several actually.  For a long time I have wanted to have the cottage background as the backdrop to the software I use very often on the computer; Stellarium.  The other reason for facing the frustration was that I had never done it before and saw it as a challenge.

Eventually the clouds were removed and it was dropped into stellarium to give a proper setting for the sun, moon and stars.


Orion rising out of our neighbour’s garage.

The sun rising over the apiary.

To be honest, the north, south, east and west, are not aligned properly.  Also, the ground is a little high.  I can live with these things for a few days; my geekness will only go so far.

We did not mark the solstice by getting up before dawn and watching the sun roll slowly out of the ground. We did not spend the night without electricity and lit only by candle. Instead we celebrated by heading to the big city and pottered about among the pulse and throb of Christmas. We did find ourselves having a leisurely lunch in the cathedral quarter among office workers. They were obviously on a Christmas lunch and very much full of festive cheer. They were merry and we merrily dined beside them and fed off their laughter and joy (and fumes maybe?). However, I did insist on connecting with the solstice somehow; by reading, out loud, chapter one of ‘Findings’ by Kathleen Jamie, on the drive from culchie land into the big city. It is a chapter all about the solstice, darkens and Maes Howe.

On the way home I was reminded about the significance that is carried to us by places like Maes Howe. I was reminded of this as we passed a grand old hill near to us and our journey home. This hill/mountain has a mound on its summit so obvious that it can just be seen by its silhouette against the winter night sky. In the daytime it stands out like a sore thumb; a lump of a thing that sits half molded into the earth and half folded into time itself. Yet, it has never been surveyed or excavated. I feel the need to share this observation with the lovely Sharon. Instantly she retorts that I always say this as we drive past. Slightly wounded by this harsh observation of my own dotting personality I reply in the only way I can, “it’s always true.”

I once heard a sermon about Christmas which began with the overhearing of a conversation. The conversation was between two shoppers who happened to see a nativity scene in a shop window, “look, they try and put religion into everything these days.” The congregation laughed because obviously the shoppers had got it wrong and possibly missed the true meaning of Christmas. I wanted to throw up my hand and call out, “but, hang on!” The lovely Sharon tells me that this is not the done thing to do in church.

It is true that Christmas has been warped, twisted and crushed by consumerism. However, there is an even older meaning to what is now Christmas. Before Christianity, even before the paganism that Christianity shone a light on; there was a Christmas of sorts. All over Northern Europe there are old stones from a time before bronze and iron. Old stones placed in specific places to time out the year. Close to the cottage here, there is such a set of stones. Thousands of years ago the local people would have stood at the lower standing stone and stared up at the stone on the horizon and waited. They would have waited for the sunrise and on the solstice, tomorrow morning; they would have seen the sun rise at the stone on the edge of the hill. This was cause for celebration, for it marked the turning of the winter. From then on, the sun would begin to claw back at the dark nights, a little at a time. It was a time to break the strict rationing of resources and eat well. It was a time for families to gather together and share stories, laugh, sing and dance at firesides.

Winter Solstice by Henrik Djarv

Merry solstice everyone.

Resources are low here at the cottage. Most of the honey disappeared soon after it was jarred. The blackcurrant jam was steadily given away to friends before most of the rest of it was sold; it has been reduced from ninety jars to only about ten. When we sat down last night to see what was left that can be made into little hampers for Christmas presents. The intention was to make up a little selection of five jars in each hamper. When we looked at what was left we could only scrounge together two. The limiting factors were the crab apple jelly and the redcurrant jelly.

Only two hampers seems disappointing, but it simply means that the two people who receive them should feel all the more special.  Especially as it took two kilos of crab apples and a lot of time to make those two tiny jars.  I don’t think I’ll try and make crab apple jelly again.

a brief history of santa

All is frozen.  The chickens are bunched together as close as they can on their perch in the shed.  The bees are clustered in a tight ball and are slowly eating their way through their winter stores, their finite gamble of the summer’s hard graft.  Around these pockets of warmth and life, all is frozen.  The ground around the cottage is a sheet of icy glass, beyond that; frozen earth.  Tonight I took a little time to look at the winter sky.  The moon is waning at the moment.  This means that it is hidden away on the other side of the world, and it means the sky is dark and the stars are out.  Orion dominates the winter sky with Taurus.  Cygnus the swan is still there but we forget about her when Orion arrives.  Earlier tonight we fought our way around the town and eventually left it as we spotted Venus and Jupiter as the only lights in the sky.  Tonight Jupiter was still hanging about, a dedicated planet, with her moons visible with the help of binoculars.  The Pleiades were a joy and the red of aldebaran was strangely warming. Not warming enough to linger though, houses are warm in these dark winter nights.

Friday night Christmas dinner with the lovely Sharon’s work.  A massive amounts of food was consumed, it feels like enough to last me till Monday.  A cold night and a frozen dawn.  Saturday pancakes are even nicer when shared with visiting family.

A little chess was played between my nephew and I after breakfast and before a snow ball fight.  The little man joined in the chess and the game was then forfeited to him.  Neither of us could find a way to defend against the little man’s aggressive attack.  Little man’s choo choo train to B3 taking white’s bishop, pawn and knight, and also black’s queen.  I had never seen anything like it.  Such a creative flare that even a Grand Master would never think of.

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