Happy New Year!
Hard as it is for me to believe, the first day of 2009 is well underway. The winter solstice passed by, more than a week ago. This morning, I noticed that the sun peeked over the horizon just a hair north of where it rose the last time I watched it from my farm-henge vantage point. The season of life is coming, I just know it is. Longer days make me optimistic.
I was born in North Dakota, where winter was long and hard. We knew how to have fun in that dark season ... we spent half an hour bundling up to brave the sub-zero temperatures and double-digit wind speeds. Skating, sledding and fort-building were all on our wintertime agenda. More often than not, in spite of our physical exertion, we turned to little blocks of ice within 15 minutes of exposure. We were warm by the time the un-bundling was completed ... and more often than not, started the process all over again. As much fun as wintertime brought, longer days made me optimistic.
As a kid, I didn't understand the cause of seasonal day length differences, but I was well aware of the expanded dark period in winter. I was also aware of where I saw the sun peek over the horizon, although it wasn't until 4th grade science class that I was able to put it all together ... with a little help from a very patient teacher. Ever since that revelation, no matter where we lived, I found myself a sacred place in the landscape where I could hide out, reflect on nature and mark the sun's progress from south to north and back south again. My sighting stone was often a grain bin or silo; trees also came in handy. When I went to college in Chicago, I found water towers atop buildings to help. Here in Kansas, our pine grove makes a pretty nice solar tracking device.
With the turning of the sun, and the subsequent longer days to look forward to, optimism fills my soul. I know that our country is facing some very exciting and difficult times in this new year. I know that folks will want to hunker down, pull back, and wrap themselves in the shroud of survival. Money will be tighter than usual, but don't let that get you down. Our ancestors didn't have half the material goods to feel compelled to consume that we have. They got their satisfaction from hard work and took joy in the small things. They grew gardens out of necessity. They raised chickens and milked a family cow ... out of necessity. They cut wood or dug coal to fire their stoves. They played games, worked on puzzles sketched, painted and wrote. The work of living was hard, but it was oh-so satisfying.
I predict that 2009 will be a glorious year. Yes, the economy will be less than we would like it to be, but in my opinion, that is a small part of the equation. Gardens will once again flourish as nourishment for body and soul. Small chicken flocks will appear in the most unlikely of places. People will stay put long enough to marvel at the subtleties of nature ... and to interact with one another as our highly social species was meant to interact. I predict that there will be a surge in community action, and that people will reach out to help others in ways that haven't often been seen in the last decade or more. The ME generations have what it takes to become the US generations, I just know it is true. I am convinced that the work will be hard in 2009, but it is that special reward that will motivate us in ways our culture hasn't been motivated for some time.
Here's to a new year of opportunity. I am optimistic, and excited to see how it all plays out.
Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on Google+.