Welcome, Winter!

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Tending the Solstice fire at the Waterworks

By 4:15pm, the sun had dropped behind the white pines flanking the beaver wetlands at The Watershed Center’s Waterworks land in Bristol. On the west bank of the Norton Brook Reservoir, a fire blazed to welcome in the Winter Solstice. Candle-lit luminaries dotted the path to the reservoir, their glow intensifying as daylight slipped toward darkness.

The wood of two trees fueled the solstice fire–one a white ash, the other a hardhack, or American Hophornbeam. These two species share the welcome trait of having very low moisture content even when green, which means they can fuel a fire even when freshly cut. Just a day earlier, David Brynn and John Peters had felled the trees, which grew just beyond the east side of the reservoir dam. They bucked and split the wood and moved it across the dam by sled and wheelbarrow to the fire ring that has warmed so many solstice and beltane celebrations over the years.

Because of Covid, The Watershed Center didn’t advertise this year’s gathering, and the gathering was perfectly small. There have been years when more than 100 people have walked the candle-lit path to the reservoir, and that, too, has been perfect. Because that’s the nature of the alchemy of fire, friendship, food, and forest.

For many, many years, Vermont Family Forests has partnered with The Watershed Center to celebrate the winter solstice here. Each celebration has its own flavor. This one was the first since beavers had reclaimed the main Waterworks trail, restoring it to wetlands. So the luminaria instead lit the new Commoners’ Return trail, which skirts the east side of those vibrant wetlands on its route to the reservoir.

Each solstice is marked by the particular gifts that those who show up bring to the table. Plaintive notes from John Peters’ flute serenaded the setting sun as we prepared for the gathering. Linda Andrews’ sheet music of solstice songs and caroles guided our singing. Offerings of food and drink fed us all.

By the time the last revelers were wandering home, the solstice fire had burned down and many of the luminaria had winked out. But by then, a nearly full moon had risen over the reservoir, lighting this longest night of the year.

Happy winter, one and all!

The solstice fire, as seen from the Forest Hut at the reservoir.