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Into the winter woods

December 21, 2017

The New England poet Robert Frost seems to be speaking about today, the Winter Solstice, the day with the longest stretch from sunset to sunrise, in his much loved poem, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.”

Whose woods these are I think I know.

His house is in the village though;

He will not see me stopping here

To watch his woods fill up with snow.

On “the darkest evening of the year” the man and his horse pull up to absorb the beauty and the stillness of New England woods in winter. If there is another experience that can touch that one, it is those woods in sunlight on this, the shortest day of the year.

By now the Connecticut woods have shed their canopy of foliage. A few oaks and beeches hang on to tawny shreds that rustle when at last they fall onto the woodland floor and skitter across the frozen ground in the lightest breeze.

It all comes together at this time of year: The roof is off the forest, the groundcovers may be twice buried, under leaves and snow, and the slanted light of deepest winter angles across, not down upon, the land the glacier left us.

Connecticut has some of the world’s most beautifully rugged land. How is it that a small-scale place with no high mountains, no deep canyons, could be so ridged, so craggy, so up-and-down?

We can thank the continents that bumped together and pulled apart millions of years ago for this spot on the planet. We can thank the glacier that scraped overland 18,000 years ago for the contours of the ground. We have the conservation that native peoples practiced for millennia to thank for the trees and other species that make themselves at home here. And we have the backbreaking labor of early European settlers to thank for the new growth and the stone walls that were the twin byproducts of clearing fields — and that presaged the forests we have now.

The winter solstice arrives at 11:28 a.m. Eastern Standard Time today in the Northern Hemisphere. It is a sacred sort of day for those who revere the ways of Planet Earth. The world turns; from now on, the daylight minutes will begin again to add up.

Time isn’t up, though. For many more weeks the winter sun will ride low enough in the southern sky. The light will slant across the bones of the land. Seen from the road, hiking, or dashing through the snow, Connecticut woods on a sunny winter day are pure poetry.