Rituals In The Darkness
In the last few days, we’ve have been quietly doing things we do every year about this time. Getting up on the roof (it’s a fairly shallow pitch on a one-story house and Bruce always scoots on his seat near the edges rather than standing on the precipice) to clean the three skylights that flood the living room with afternoon light, an effect that caused our artistic friend Vera to call it “the lantern house.”
Blowing the accumulated leaf detritus off the roof with a leaf blower, very satisfying. Putting up one solitary string of multicolored Christmas lights along the gutters in front of the house. A major achievement in organization this year, it took all of fifteen seconds to find them in storage in what is still partly the Augean Garage.
Picking the bounteous firm orange globes off the persimmon tree, dozens and dozens of softball-sized weighty prizes that will soften on the counter and be blended into purée and frozen into cubes to use throughout the year, mostly in custardy smoothies mixed with bananas and peanut butter and cinnamon.
Buying a Christmas tree and setting it up in its customary place, but not lighting it or decorating it until daughter Kimberly returns from University on the far side of the pond. Not the next-door pond that we know and love and swim and surf and sail in (the Pacific Ocean) but the other one separating the US from the UK.
Where we are, the shortest day of the year is Dec. 21.
In the UK, it is in the wee hours of Dec. 22. But the earliest sunset and latest sunrise are offset, I think due to our position within our timezone.
The earliest sunset is on Dec. 6, and the latest sunrise is Jan. 6, symmetrically positioned round the winter solstice.
So even though the days are getting shorter, the sunset is getting later. (by a few seconds per day at this point, not even a full minute yet, but followed with eager anticipation)
Kimberly is toiling away on her final papers and exams at the University of St Andrews. Since she is majoring in Art History, she is writing a paper on the topic of “Figure and Ground.” Her professor invited the students to consider the subject not just in the realm of painting, but in other fields such as architecture and music.
It just so happened that when she informed us of this challenge that Bruce was practicing a new organ piece, an arrangement of the Sinfonia from JS Bach’s Cantata No. 29, “Nun danket alle Gott.” (Now thank we all our God)
It’s a breathless four-minute plus virtuosic romp of pure unalloyed joy and power, unquenchable light in the darkest days of the year. It’s also a fine demonstration of figure and ground, with an endless sixteenth note melody above a pulsing accompaniment driving the piece forward, echoing in different voices and culminating in a glorious reprise, truly “pulling out all the stops.”
So Kimberly decided to do her final art history project on Bach. This was an opportunity for her to get back to her roots in music, as she studied opera and sang in choruses in her school years as well as studying cello and piano and composing three books of string pieces. After all of that, she had set music aside for a while, and this recent turn was heartwarming. We’ve been spending hours on WhatsApp discussing it.
It has given us opportunity to reflect on the mutable nature of artistic creativity, that deep principles are independent of medium and have roots in the fundamentals of perception and being.
Art is always there in the time of darkness, whether physical or psychological.
Art is the swallow in our barn, the ghost in the machine, the cherished extra minute of daylight.
With gratitude from our studio to yours,
Nancy & Bruce
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