Happy Sadness

It’s that transitional time of year, which, due to my Northern temperament and locale, always seems mournful, but in a good way. : )  A perfect trifecta of three events almost demands reflection: the winter solstice, the end of the year, and a lifetime in a cold, confining climate.

It is particularly the shortest, darkest day of the year — winter solstice — that makes the loudest call for reflection. All that dark makes the soul crave contemplation. What I mean by Happy Sadness is that sort of rumination about how things could be worse, but aren’t. A quiet reflection on one’s blessings, but not to gloat.

The short list – I’ve accomplished a lot this year, met some lifelong goals: published one book, wrote another, made progress on other personal projects. Along with my kids, I took a fantastic, once-in-a-lifetime train trip down the West Coast and had what can only be described as a near perfect time with friends in Seattle and L.A. (‘Near’ only because one key family member was unable to join us due to an illness).  We are living comfortably – modestly – and that is quite an accomplishment given the times. On our street alone, there are a half-dozen neighbors who lost their homes, and those homes have remained empty this past year. The extended family is mostly in good health, gainfully employed, and growing (one wedding, one engagement, perhaps more on the way).

Stating what I’ve stated in the past paragraph makes me want to knock on wood. It could all change overnight, but I’m not staying awake nights thinking about that. I have in the past. Times were tougher in other years. But at the moment….knock wood….we’re in good shape.  

And so it is once again time for the Winter solstice poem to make its appearance. The poem is about my annual solstice day activity: baking Finnish pulla (cardamom) bread. I can think of nothing better than the smell of cardamom bread in the oven: it sustains the spirit on the darkest day of the year, when the reflections sometimes turn away from the positives, and focus too much on the negatives.  Fresh bread always makes things better. I bake several loaves and bring them to holiday gatherings.  Yummy. The poem originally appeared at Tattoo Highway, and the page features this wonderful illustration of a braided loaf.


I reach for the spice jar
and pour out a dozen cardamom pods to grind
down to a scented jumble.

I fold in the flour, then knead, raise and braid my bread, 
sprinkling an ornament of sugar and almonds on the twisted loaves. 
The musky ginger lingers on my warm hands; 
sweet yeasty secrets are released by the heat of my stove.

Outside, everything lies encased in frozen pods, in ice, 
waiting quietly for the other solstice to crack open 
the living powder the world is made of:
my own powder — could I as easily know? I 
put away my mortar and pestle. 

The long night arrives at the season’s juncture 
and the full spectrum shines elsewhere, 
I turn away and snap off the yard light, 
leaving buried, dark and cold,
the wind-junked souvenirs of December.