There are places, in the cycle of life, where paths seem to cross. The obvious such crossings are the seasonal changes: vernal and spring equinoxes, and the summer and winter solstices. These are "sidereal" crossings...based upon the relationship between the sun and earth. We are nearing that place where the days in the northern hemisphere are the shortest, and our angle of axis and revolution around the sun will make for days becoming longer again.
There are much more subtle crossings that happen in our surroundings. My native and current home is Florida. I grew up in the center of the state and now live in the southwest coastal part of the state. The environment here is different...considered to be "subtropical."
Having lived in the north and central parts of our country for twenty years, I moved in a cycle that was much more definitive. With the coming of the fall season, almost everything except evergreens lost their leaves and entered a five to six month dormant period. All farm crops were harvested and fields "bedded" for winter...with exception of a few hearty grains (e.g. winter wheat). Lawns and landscaping entered a dormant cycle, and I generally did not have to mow from early November to early/mid April.
In the subtropical climate, it is a bit different. There are two lines of life cycle that meet about now. There are deciduous trees (like the Bald Cypress and Florida Maple), that are showing signs of entering a dormant period. Florida grasses are also entering dormancy. Instead of mowing weekly, our condo community lawn service mows bi-weekly...and could probably stretch it to once a month starting in January. There are signs of life quieting down.
However, there is also an emerging vibrancy in our ecosystem. The long dormancy of fruit and vegetable growth (May - September) has already shifted. The first harvest of citrus began in mid-November. A variety of locally grown vegetables are available, and farmers markets that have been closed for five months have re-opened to sell a wide variety of newly harvested veggies. This will continue (and increase) through late April.
The only drawback to the agricultural growing season in our area is the potential for a large arctic cold mass or winter storm to make it this far south. Usually, by the time such systems reach us, the affects of the Gulf, Caribbean and southern Atlantic waters have softened the edges of the freezing temperatures enough to drop local temperatures only into the 40s or high 30s...still tolerable for sensitive fruits and vegetables.
Surely, "deep freezes" happen here. The most notable to me (because I was here for both) were the freezes of 1962 and 1983. For the citrus industry, it was a "one-two punch." The first deep freeze killed whole groves of citrus in Central Florida. The second freeze killed the trees that had survived and many of the replaced groves that were just coming to a place of maturity for full fruit production. Those two events alone, changed the landscape...literally. Florida has also moved through several extended periods of drought and warmer than normal summers and winters.
Yesterday (1 December) marked a place in the Christian cycle of life that is generally called the "new liturgical year." The First Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new cycle of liturgical life...new biblical cycles for daily prayer and Sunday lectionaries and a variety of shifts in how we worship/pray and live our common faith journey. This is an emergent line of vitality and renewal...preparing us for the birth of the Christ and the coming of the Kingdom. It is a deeply incarnational time. As it happens, it is also based upon the solar calendar (the cycle for Easter is lunar, but this is another story entirely).
Our culture has chosen to create a line of increased activity that parallels the deeply spiritual one that has been in place. While it mirrors the spiritual, this line is almost totally secular. Our mobility and relatively increased wealth has allowed for a "north-south" shift that begins in November and shifts into its highest concentration after Christmas. Our population, in this area alone, will increase by more than 70% and will last until around 15 April (tax time). People who either own two homes or have seasonal rental agreements will close up their northern residences and be here, in the warmer climate, for the winter season.
This shift is not "bad" in itself. Local retail does quite well during these months. Many restaurants and businesses will make enough money during "the season" to sustain their year-round budgets.
I am not going to "rant" about the secularizing or commercializing of Christmas. I did enough of that as a parish priest. I simply choose, for the most part, not to play the game of Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays. I tend to fly under that high wire of frenetic activity. I am energized by the cycle of quiet but steady expectancy and subtle shifts of life that come with this cycle. Bald Eagles are nesting...as are Osprey and hawks. There is a quiet vibrancy, as one walks through nature preserves and the "back trails" of more rural parts of south Florida.
I am a contemplative and tuned, it seems, to the quieter frequencies of life that are, nonetheless, essential to the ongoing stability and order of creation. There is, within me, in this cycle, a time to embrace the ever emerging vibrancy of life. This line meets with the external, cultural hyper-activity. As long as we don't confuse the two, we can enjoy both. But, one has to choose which direction to take, when the lines meet.
Love and Blessings,