I light five candles for the pagan holiday today, pick flowers from our courtyard garden. They are still out on the patio table. I peeked at them a bit ago, watching them through the kitchen window, something reassuring and ancient about the look of those five flames lighting the dark. It’s been like early summer in the middle of our Palm Springs winter, that delicious evening air that feels like velvet against your skin. Or maybe you are the velvet—it is hard to know. It reminds me of one evening years ago sitting in the warm pool at Tassajara, the water and the air and my skin all one temperature so you couldn’t tell where one began or ended, the closest I have ever felt to being literally one with air and sky and water. The days have grown warmer than I’d choose, wanting as I am to push summer off as long as I can, but how can I complain about this evening air? It is like January in Ajijic, bare feet braced against the railing of my third floor roost, my northern Californian self almost gloating. I was barefoot in January. Now seven winters later I am spoiled in this. But still, I want to linger, wallow in the sweet, soft ease of it. Happy Candlemas, everyone.
The sky is beautiful this evening, that brief blaze of orange clouds in the last light of the sun, long gone from our valley but only now disappearing below that unseen horizon. I walk outside the gate to see more sky and spin, head thrown back. The waxing moon, almost full, surprises me. I spot the evening star setting in the west, Venus, I think. It’s as though a line connects her to the rising moon. Are they talking to each other? Later I write with the sliding glass door wide open, and I can see the star poised above the dark shape of the mountain, a sleeping beast, Venus wide awake and calling. It is Candlemas eve, Imbolc eve, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, the turning of the earth, the waxing of the light. Already we can feel the days growing longer. What sweeter way to mark the return of the light than with this bright circle of moon and her star companion, buddies in the early night?
Have you noticed how far north the sun has already traveled across its annual trajectory? It keeps surprising me. It seems like it’s already more than halfway back toward the spot I watch it disappear behind the mountains in the height of summer, and yet we’re not nearly to the spring equinox which I’m thinking must be the halfway point in its path. One of my favorite holidays is Candlemas, or Imbolc. It falls on February second, Groundhog Day, and marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It’s one of the eight main pagan holidays, and it celebrates this growing light. This year for Candlemas I built a small altar with five candles. I don’t tend to follow any rules, but I chose five white tealights for the physical symmetry—I put one in the center—and because five is the human number. I picked flowers from my garden, used a baby food jar for my tiny bouquet. I meant to post to you on the holiday itself, but I went to see a play with my Auntie Christel, A Perfect Ganesh, and the Sunday slipped away from me.
But I am loving this lengthening of the days. This year more than ever I seem to have trouble getting things done while it’s still light. I end up walking around our neighborhood in the dark wearing my bright pink lighted dog leash like a sash to keep me safe from bike riders. Or doing my qi gong in the courtyard, my dragon’s punch toward the rim of the mountains just visible in the early night. I am not sorry for these, am enjoying each one, even the yoga I did the other night with a lamp beside me on the ground to make sure I could see any bugs who might decide to wander over. But it lifts my heart to feel those extra minutes of light added to every day, to watch the settling of darkness moving back a bit each night. Here is to the waxing light.
I am lying on my back on my yoga mat. I’ve come late to my practice today, so I’m on the living room floor, chased inside by the cold air. I move my head, and I can see the last light in the sky through the window, still visible in contrast against the darkness of the bougainvillea leaves in the late dusk. The white of the sky is a soft glow, like muted neon or dimmed florescence. I turn my head back, and my eyes sweep the little row of snow globes on the windowsill. There is something peculiar about them this evening, something caught in their curved glass. I check the sky again. Are there clouds up there, still lit by the sun long lost to our edge of the valley here beside the mountains? Sometimes the clouds are lit golden. But there are no clouds, and it’s too late really for them to still catch and hold the sun’s light from their heights. And then I realize what I’m seeing. It’s the Christmas lights I have woven around the bougainvillea trunk and branches. The green and blue and red and amber lights are showing up in my snow globes, five strands glowing there in miniature. I’ve always loved them, I think, in part because they’re little worlds, and they’ve never felt more like that than this moment with these tiny strings of lights alive in them.
I think of the lights I laced along the curtain rod in my Ajijic apartment, looping down into the windows so people would see them from the street below. I remember the white glass bird hanging there, a photograph somewhere, the white tail feathers floating against the window screen. I think of the rounded yellow bird so like that white one, that hung on my shower rod with three glass hummingbirds in Santa Rosa, and the shock of the crash when the rod gave way that afternoon, nothing but glorious shards left in the bathtub. I think of the new glass rooster on my patio table, sunlight through the red glass of his comb, his tail, his wattles. It is my love of color and light that leaves me always reluctant to take down my Christmas lights. I left them up late in Ajijic, too, though I felt self-conscious about it there. Would this be another mark of my crazy estadounidense self? Here I don’t seem to care what my neighbors think of me, the solar lights still sharp and vivid in the hedge beside the gate at night.
But I was glad all out of proportion to see two people in my neighborhood who still have their lights turned on, too. I asked Ana about it once, if people in Ajijic ever left their Christmas lights up despues del año nuevo, after the new year. She told me some people wait until after Candlemas to take them down. Candlemas is the Christianized name for one of the main pagan holidays on February 2nd. The Catholics call it the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. But as I understand it, we celebrate the waxing of the light. I told Ana I liked that idea, a kind of sanctioned extension of my pleasure in the lights. What better way to honor the growing light than with these bright colors in the dark? When I finish my yoga, I move on hands and knees to the windowsill, stare deep into the small glass globes. It is a wonder, I think, these tiny strands of light that stretch within them, sharp and clear and luminous. I bow to the light in each and every one of us. Namaste, indeed.