Winter solstice and small miracles

The glowing center of this morning glory—still blooming where I live—looks much like a pink star in a midnight sky.

Where were you in the year 1226?
There is a rare treat awaiting us on this year’s winter solstice. It’s called the Great Conjunction, and the last time humans could see it like this was on March 4, 1226.

When two planets in our solar system appear close to each other—from Earth’s perspective—it’s called a conjunction. When it happens with the two biggest planets, Jupiter and Saturn, it’s called the Great Conjunction, which occurs around every 20 years. However, it’s quite rare when they appear to be overlapping each other AND are visible from earth. The last time they looked this close to each other was during Galileo’s time, in 1623, but the planets also lined up so close to the sun that they weren’t visible from Earth. The next time this will happen is relatively soon: 2080.

You can see both Jupiter and Saturn now, as they are orbiting, but the special moment will occur just after sunset on December 21. If you want to see this special gift from the universe, you’ll need clear skies and a view toward the southwestern horizon. Astronomers suggest beginning to look about a half-hour before sunset, and they say that the show will last until about a half-hour after sunset. You don’t need a telescope, but having one will give you an even more special view.


Holiday lights in my village
The old center of Bize: a street the size of an alley, ancient stone houses, and modern LED lights for the holidays.
Pretty decorations on one house, plus a Christmas Eve visitor on the roof!
Bize recently received a new piece of civic art: a lady of yesteryear, peering out a “window” in this massive stone wall. And then for Christmas, the town gave her lighted curtains, which I think is just perfect.
Looping strands of “snowfall” lights decorate the plane trees on The Promenade at the center of town.

Celebrating small miracles
It’s going to be a quieter holiday season than many of us have been used to. Perhaps there’s an opportunity in that. I’ve been taking advantage of the spaces in this past year to learn how to breathe more fully—what a gift! It’s also been a gift to move more slowly and to be fully present, to give my attention to what is in front of me right now, rather than giving it to something I’m dashing toward in the future.

One small miracle that I’ve been enjoying for several weeks now is two giant arugula plants that showed up in the back of my garden. I didn’t plant them. I love arugula, and I’ve grown it for about 20 years. I’ve never seen it grow the way these two plants are growing: they’re low and wide, with all the stems coming from the center of the plant, right at ground level. The leaves are abundant, and larger than I’ve seen. And they’re just as spicy as I like. In the States, we tend to call it arugula, which is the Italian name for it. Folks in the U.K. call it rocket, from the French word, roquette. It grows like a weed in the vineyards around here, and somehow, one of those “weeds” found a home in my garden, and I’ve had salad for weeks.

Another little miracle is starlings. One item on my bucket list is to see a murmuration of starlings, like the ones you can see online. It turns out that there are starlings where I live here in southern France, although the groups aren’t quite so large. The other day, I came out of an appointment to hear a remarkably loud noise, and it took me a moment to realize that it was the sound of hundreds of birds all gathered in a few nearby trees. Two days later, I heard the same sound from inside my house, and when I stepped outside, there was a chattering cacophony coming from the tall evergreens behind my house. I watched for a while, as a few birds would arrive, and then a heartbeat later a few would depart. In one moment, they all got the same memo, and took off in unison, the sound of their wings as they flew overhead very much like the roar of a large ocean wave hitting the shore. And then utter silence.

One more miracle: the other night, I was sitting in my little house, where a new strand of tiny white lights was strung across one wall. I love tiny white lights—can’t explain why—and the new lights had me clapping my hands like a happy child. Then I remembered the Geminid meteor showers, donned a jacket, and went outside just in time to see a big, fat meteor as it streaked across the Milky Way. It was a truly magical moment. I watched a few more meteors come and go, my heart flying high with them, feeling peace and contentment wash over me.

Miracles, indeed.

Tiny white lights cast entrancing forms on the wall of my house.

Random tidbit #1
The tenth president of the United States, John Tyler, was born in 1790, before the U.S. Constitution was ratified. He still has a living grandson. Take a moment to digest that: 230 years after his birth, one of his grandsons is still alive in 2020. These are not typos! Click here to read this remarkable story.

Random tidbit #2
“I have to admit my favorite thing is when the universe sits down beside me & points towards something that’s completely unexpected & oh so easy to miss & smiles, saying, I knew you’d like this…”
–Kai Skye, Flying Edna


Parting shot
Give yourself a few minutes of Christmas humor with French comedian Remi Gaillard and his naughty Santa video. Ho, ho ho!

The artists at work on this year’s Christmas window paintings at a nearby grocery store.

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