Movement and light come to the Berkshires midway between winter and spring (By the Way column)

It’s the middle of winter. If we count the year by solstices and equinoxes, Sunday will fall halfway between the first day of winter and the first day of spring — the shortest day of the year, and the day when sunlight and night hours balance. We may not feel it yet, but the light is coming back. We’re halfway to spring.
This halfway day has a name — it has had more than one. The Celts called it Imbolc, and people debate now what that word means. They call it budding, cleansing, ewe sheep carrying lambs and getting ready to let down milk when their babies are born.
Those meanings seem to blend into a time for returning energy. It’s a stirring in the gut and a sense of new life coming, gradually and steadily, and calling for attention.
Maybe it’s a time when we want to look for light, or feel the night is beautiful. I know where I’d begin.
Come listen to a South African choir singing in low overlapping voices, vibrating through your chest and the soles of your feet, as Vuyani Dance Company transforms Ravel’s Bolero in their new work, Cion.
South Dancer, choreographer and director Gregory Maqoma is one of South Africa’s most honored and well loved artists. I saw his work in The Head and the Load a couple of years ago, when William Kentridge gathered artists and musicians and dancers in residency at Mass MoCA, and it was soaring, sad and nakedly honest. I felt African soldiers from World War I looking straight at me. Three years later, I remember the choir’s voices. A band played near the battlefield. A man held a wounded friend and helped him walk.
This weekend, they will sing a work Ravel may have adapted from a Sufi melody. (Or so Idries Shah says in The Sufis.) The dance Maqoma has created, inspired by the novel Cion by South African novelist Zakes Mda. In this book, Mda returns to a character from an earlier magic realist novel, Ways of Dying, set five years after Apartheid; he continues the story of Toloki the professional mourner.
In Cion, Toloki comes to America, to a family in Ohio, and he reveals the stories of the enslaved people who found freedom and became their ancestors.
It feels to me like a stirring of light.
And if I want to know more about the sun this week, I can turn to to Arthur McClelland. He studies light. He will give a talk at Bard College at Simon’s Rock on a job he calls “zapping things with lasers and taking pictures of rainbows” — optical spectroscopy. He looks at the way light and matter interact, and the samples he has studied sound like an alchemist’s dream, “red oak leaves, medieval middle eastern manuscripts, squid pens, lunar dust, Mayan dental inlays … Han dynasty mirrors …”
When the sun sets, the moon is waxing, and we can walk into the woods at night. We can listen for owls across the open ridges. February is nesting season for Great Horned Owls. They have been calling to each other in the winter woods, as males and females find each other. They mate for life. They are sitting on eggs now — the parents take turns keeping them warm in the cold, and the owlets can hatch by late February.
The nights are long, and we can feel the wind moving down from hundreds of miles of open woods, and out there life is stirring.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *