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Solstice Hobo Camp

December 21, 2009

We’ve been dropping the phrase “Winter Solstice” in child company for just the past twenty four hours. And really, we just zipped up our eight nights of Hanukkah (due to menorah misplacement we started one night late) and look out kids, here comes another sacred, meaningful day.


Explaining Winter Solstice to the kids makes me feel like such an adult, or at least that adult in me who has this anticipatory sense of tomorrow, who can flip through my brain’s calendar and console my snow-bound self that in just two months, I’ll be pressing tomato seeds into greenhouse soil. This is to say I like to know what’s happening next and despite the fact that winter holds a secure spot in my heart, that one extra minute (starting tomorrow!) of daylight is simply thrilling.

The kids don’t live like this, with anticipation, plotting, foreseeing. They are just as likely to wake up in the middle of July and feed squash and rice to an orphanage of animals, as they did this 10F degree morning on December 21st.


And I love this about childhood, how Dan and I can plan a trip to New Jersey to see his mom and meanwhile lose a month of life and a modicum of good will to airline websites that change flight prices every time we each pause to consider dates, and then we make our lists and consider housesitters and deliberate over whether to heft Col’s bulky nebulizer to New Jersey and I panic over who will sleep where and what entertainment to cart on the plane and how we’ll transpose our wild life on someone else’s space. And the kids? They simply wake up on the day of travel and get toted here and there like so much carry-on baggage. They’re thrilled to see the giant gumball machine at the Durango airport, and never once say “wait a second, you didn’t tell me we were going to have a four hour layover in Denver.”

And just like that, they wake up and we tell them “today we’re celebrating winter solstice.”

On the solstice, the sky is a symphony of blue, like a wildly uplifting piano note held for eternity. It’s almost ridiculous, comical, this forever blue like the heavens are shaking out a cerulean sheet, trying to dry it on the shortest day of the year. It makes us giddy, that, and the four wild turkey hens we see as we stomp through the calf-high snow to hobo camp.


Dan had taken the kids to hobo camp, a snow-free rectangle inside a metal tunnel under the highway, the previous weekend. Dan is like this. When he has the kids, he’s most likely to take them to the woods, toting a passel of firewood, refreshments, and bows and arrows, while the little people really can’t be relied upon to walk very far. Dan jumps creeks with a kid under each arm, his back loaded like a Sherpa’s. There have been cold little hands, donuts for breakfast and thorny bushwhacking but there have also been bald eagle sightings, cotton-candy sunrises, and eavesdropping on mating deer chasing each other in a frostbitten field.


                                        (Our very own Hobo Camp )

“So, who knows what Winter Solstice is?” We ask the kids as a small juniper fire sweetens the air. Between the occasional car roaring over our metal ceiling, all we hear is the drip of snow melting off the outstretched arms of ponderosa pines, pinyon and junipers.  


“It’s the shortest day of the year.” Col says, pleasing us with his powers of repetition, for which he gets high fives.

Then, Dan draws a picture of the sun’s winter arc, shot across the horizon by a low-aiming arrow; our house, still the center of the children’s universe sits squarely in the middle of the ripped notebook page. Dan starts to explain with his pen how the sun’s trajectory will steadily rise, but it’s just a string of words and Col’s gone off to look for “special things” in the tunnel and Rose delicately unwraps her chocolate Hanukkah gelt, perfect golden suns.


Dan and I smile at the children, at our lucky life. The sun elbows into the tunnel and this is enough warmth on this shortest day.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2009 7:36 pm

    awwwww, you guys just celebrated winter solstice for us. we are too busy to stop and smell the roses today. how did that happen!!!thanks for sharing -SAB

  2. December 22, 2009 2:08 am

    what an amazing post and gifted writer you are! i’m so glad you stopped by and commented at pc so i could find you here. joy!

  3. December 22, 2009 10:11 am

    This is simply beautiful, through and through.

  4. December 22, 2009 3:43 pm

    we had the solstice circled in red pen on our kitchen calendar…and completely forgot about it until yesterday evening- there’s always next year, right? lovely images, writing, and sentiment – glad to find you!

  5. December 22, 2009 8:08 pm

    this is absolutely beautiful.

    i particularly love this line…

    “There have been cold little hands, donuts for breakfast and thorny bushwhacking but there have also been bald eagle sightings, cotton-candy sunrises, and eavesdropping on mating deer chasing each other in a frostbitten field.”

    such a beautiful imagery.

    thank you.


  6. Michelle permalink
    December 23, 2009 9:02 am

    Hello Rachel,

    I just discovered your blog after my husband brought home a Telegraph picked up on a recent trip through Durango. I love your blog, you are a wonderful writer!

    We are happily settled back in Maine now but Durango is a special place for us and reading your essays transports me right back there.

    I will check back often.

    Michelle Shutty

  7. December 24, 2009 10:07 pm

    What a cool adventure… don’t think I ever visited Hobo Camp while living in Durango. :) I love how the kids get toted around like carry-on baggage, it’s so true. They have no sense of how much planning is involved even to take a trip to the store! Your description of cotton candy sunrises brings that all back for me—thank you for sharing your gorgeous words and your beautiful family. Love to all!!

  8. Steph permalink
    December 26, 2009 3:21 pm

    I can’t WAIT till those tomato seeds hit the soil in just 2 months!!!! I’m already dreaming and scheming about next year’s garden.


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