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Paddling Articles In the Same Boat

Wheel of the Year

The Return of the Light

By Tamia Nelson

Our cabin looks out to the west, across the Flow. Whenever possible we take a minute at twilight to mark the point on the horizon where the sun sets. Only a few days ago it reached its ultimate south. From now until late June the sun will travel relentlessly northward, and each day will be just a little longer and lighter than the one before. Far from being the first day of winter in the northern hemisphere, therefore, December 21st is midwinter's day—one of the great fixed points in the astronomical calendar.

Our canoes may be buried under rapidly-deepening drifts, and we may go about our daily chores on snowshoes, but the season of darkness is even now giving way to that of light—grudgingly at first, to be sure, but the return of the sun is nonetheless assured. It's no surprise, then, that midwinter festivals have figured prominently in the religious traditions of all northern peoples, at all times in human history of which we can claim any knowledge. Long before the great holy days of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam were celebrated in prayer and song, men and women who knew nothing of Moses, Jesus, or Muhammad rejoiced in the annual renewal of the sun's promise.

It was these same men and women who gave us a unique gift. In learning how to travel along northern waterways, they built the boats which bring us all together here today. True, few modern canoes and kayaks bear more than a passing resemblance to their aboriginal precursors. And we're many generations removed from the northern artisans who first shaped skin, wood, and bark into light, responsive craft. But despite this unbridgeable gulf of years, we are still the same people now that we were then. We can no more help being stirred by the simple, elemental wonder of the sun's return than we can escape delight in breathing.

This is a time, then, for celebration, for rejoicing, and for thanks. Farwell and I are no exception. We have much to be thankful for. For the extraordinary energy and remarkable patience of Brian Van Drie and Brent Vredevoogd, for one thing. Without them, would not exist, and canoeists and kayakers on every continent would be poorer.

And what of you, our readers? You, too, are equally important to us. However busy he or she may be, a writer's life is an oddly solitary one, and no life, however full, can comprehend more than a tiny portion of the range of human experience. Fortunately for us both, from the first weeks of our column right up until today, we've been blessed with readers who continue to challenge, instruct, and gladden us. You questions us. You correct our errors. You remind us of things we've forgotten. In short, you teach us something every day, and our lives are forever enriched by your letters.

We hope to hear from even more of you in the months to come. If you don't tell us what's on your minds, we can't know what you're thinking. So don't be shy, and don't hold back. We have thick skins and broad shoulders. Tell us what we've written that you've enjoyed or found useful. What you've found boring. What you'd like to see more of—and less of. We want to know. While we certainly can't please everyone, we'll always do our best. You are the reason that we're here, after all. 'Nuff said.

I'm writing this on Christmas Eve. It will be dark soon, and Farwell and I are already surrounded by gifts. None is wrapped in colored paper, however. The ice on the Flow murmurs and sings with each surge of hidden water. On the slope behind our cabin, juncos and chickadees scratch for seeds in sheltered hollows under the cedars. At any moment now, a mother deer and her two yearling bucks will emerge from the woods to forage in the second-growth along the road. For these presents and many others Farwell and I give daily thanks.

The greatest gift of all, though, is the gift of friendship. Here, too, Farwell and I have been fortunate indeed. In particular, we'd like to thank two North Country neighbors, Don and Leslie. Neither will be sitting at our table tonight, but each will be present in our thoughts, as will Brent, Brian, and all our readers, as well.

To Leslie, therefore, and to Don, and to the entire family, we raise our glasses to you, each and every one—in gratitude, in affection, and in celebration. In this season when we join together in rejoicing, perhaps no better invocation can be found than that of Ecclesiasticus: "A faithful friend is the medicine of life."

To life, then, and to warmth and color. To the Return of the Light.

Holiday Greetings

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