Imbolc/Candlemas   2 comments

My wife and I returned late yesterday afternoon to a cold house — we heat only with wood — back from an overnight to Boston where we visited my wife’s cousin Sue in the hospital.  She’s due to go home soon after stem-cell replacement therapy and chemo for lymphoma.  So far the treatment’s working, and her toughness and optimism are heartening.

Our indoor thermometer read 49 degrees, and as we shivered in the last afternoon light and I rekindled a fire in our woodstove, I caught myself glancing a couple of times at a calendar, the way you do after a trip, to reorient yourself to times and days. Late January.  The last glimmer of sun over our front yard showed a typical Vermont winter scene — new snow, bare trees, and that deceptive bright calm that makes you believe you really don’t need to bundle yourself up and protect every extremity against single-digit New England winter days.  A single step outside offers a brisk corrective to that particular illusion.

Yes, frostbite lurks for the unwary, but there’s a subtle shift nonetheless.  Birds know it, plumped against the cold, heads cocked and alert for anyone else finding food, and so does the ivy drowsing beside my wife’s loom.  It’s perked up recently, as if waking from its own vegetative hibernation.

Sue’s bright spirits, beyond her own brand of courage, are in keeping with the changing season.  Imbolc approaches, the holiday also celebrated variously as Candlemas or St. Brigid’s Day on Feb. 1/2.  The northeastern U.S. lies in the grip of winter, and yet the holiday looks forward to spring.  The Irish word imbolc means “in the belly” — the fetal lambs growing and approaching the time of their birth into a larger world, full of darkness and light. Brigid draws devotees who keep shrines lit with light and fire.  The Wikipedia entry nicely sums up her importance:  “Saint Brigid is one of the few saints who stands on the boundary between pagan mythology, Druidism and Christian spirituality.”

Verses in her honor abound:

Fire in the forge that
shapes and tempers.

Fire of the hearth that
nourishes and heals.

Fire in the head that
incites and inspires.

You can feel the change with your eyes, on your skin, in your bones — a slightly different angle of light, longer days, a listening quality, if you go quiet enough to hear it.  A reason to celebrate with light and flame.

There’s an old Japanese saying I encountered while living and working in Tokyo two decades ago that often comes to my mind this time of year.  “What is the bravest of living things?  The plum tree, because it puts forth its blossoms in the snow.”  There’s a bravery in certitude, a trust that, as Genesis 8 declares, “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

There’s deep comfort in homely things — things of home — the soapstone stove, the hearth stones that accumulate wood-ash and need sweeping a few times a day, the armfuls of oak logs I bring to feed our fire.

Late this morning as I finish the final draft of this post, the stove still ticking and pinging softly as it heats and cools with each charge of wood, the wall thermometer finally reads 67.  My wife reads in bed, the sky lowers gray, and a fine snow clouds the air as it descends.

Light and blessings of the season to you.

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2 responses to “Imbolc/Candlemas

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  1. Thoughtful and well written.

    I wish you some warmth from central Texas, where the last few afternoons saw the temperature rise into the high 70s.

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