The sky is black, the stars are bright, the air is frigid. It's an hour or so before dawn on the morning of the winter solstice.
We can hear the drums as we walk toward the amphitheater. The waning crescent moon hangs over the tall crag that forms the southern wall of the amphitheater. We choose our space, spread our blankets on the icy seats. The drumming continues. Somewhere in the darkness someone plays a didgeridoo.
Najah takes out a tiny cauldron, lights charcoal. We share a cup of coffee while it smolders. When the coals are ready, she scatters a homemade blend of sage, cedar and copal. Smoke spirals up, the scents blending with the cold, the stone, the snow. Frankincense wafts down the rows, the drums keep pounding.
Najah takes up her rattles, I take up my drum. We join in the rhythm. There's no leader, no program, no script. People keep arriving, the drums get louder. The darkness slowly fades. There's no sign of the sun, but now there's enough light to see that the sky is cloudless, except for two banks of clouds rising up from the horizon like the wings of a dragon. The drumming continues, the dragon's wings turn from purple to a fiery magenta. The drumming continues. My shoulder is beginning to ache. I keep drumming. The wings turn to molten gold. There is the faintest line of light at the horizon. The drumming continues. And continues. It builds in intensity. There is still only the faintest line of light on the horizon. We drum and we drum, and the sun does not appear. Time seems to be frozen. The sun is not coming up. We drum louder and faster. The sun is not coming up. And suddenly, I understand the fears of our ancestors. For a moment, I am afraid the sun will not come up, that it has gone away, never to return. A deep, atavistic fear that the world will remain in darkness.
The drumming continues, it gets louder, faster, more insistent. A raven flies across the sky. The crescent moon hangs about the rock. Frankincense, sage, cedar and coffee mingle in the cold air. The line of light grows thicker. The drumming gets louder, faster. The sun peeps above the horizon, only a quarter of it visible. It hovers there, teasing, enjoying the attention. The drumming reaches a frenzy, voices break into ulalations and howls. The sound echoes on the rocks at the sun finally shows itself above the horizon. Hands raise in salute. Hail and welcome the reborn sun!
Now that the sun is in the sky, I can see the faces of the twohundred or so people who braved single digit temperatures to celebrate the Solstice. Everyone is shining.