The day the sun stopped rolling away

Winter Solstice (PHOTO: Robin Ottawa, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

As a young radio reporter for KUWS in Superior, Wisconsin, my news director Mike Simonson sent me to cover the Hump Day Club across the bridge in Duluth, Minnesota.

At the time the Hump Day Club met once a year for lunch at the Pickwick the day after the winter solstice. The premise was simple. Businesspeople, mostly men, gathered to celebrate the fact that days would henceforth grow longer. They’d drink beer, eat reuben sandwiches, tell dirty jokes and push their lunch break well into the afternoon.

Mustaches caked with sauerkraut. Double chins pulsing with laughter. Dim light reflected off gold cufflinks and bald heads. And my job was to produce a meaningful audio recording for a two-minute feature story.

Mike would always send the rookie reporters to cover this event. Back then I wondered why he assigned this story every year, but I realized later it was a test. These were the same kind of guys you’d find shuffling about the courthouses, council meetings and chambers of commerce. If you could handle them happy and drunk you’d possess the tools to cover them shifty and sober.

“Hump Day” is a turning point, or at least a good excuse to party. Is there a difference? Human history suggests not. Most cultures hold some special event commemorating when one season turns into the next. Only language, food and interior decorating distinguish them from one anther.

This past Friday, we marked this year’s winter solstice. The word “solstice” comes from its Latin translation: “sun stopped.” If you can imagine a pendulum, as the Romans did, you would see that at some precise moment the pendulum suspends in midair, fully exhausting its energy, before beginning the long journey to the other side.

Though more than 100 cold nights lie ahead, each will be shorter than the last. Every day layers new light on the horizon.

Finns even manage to subdivide winter. That’s what you do when winters are long. On Jan. 19 Finnish Americans “break the back” of winter by striking a long stick on something hard, marking winter’s halfway point. Then in February Laskiainen signifies the ability to do chores that require more daylight. This holiday typically tracks with Shrove Tuesday, or the last day before Lent. Here in Northern Minnesota, most know Laskiainen for the sliding festival in Palo.

All of this seems distant now, perhaps. Part of the great dark time following Christmas. But these days will come.

Those concerned about the future of this land might find comfort that “solstice” applies to so much more than the rotation of the earth on its axis. Every age has its solstice — every idea, every mood, every crisis turned to dust.

In Hebrew, “gam zeh yaʻavor.”

In Latin, “Sic transit Gloria mundi.”

This too shall pass.

Last year I wrote that the top word of 2017 was “truth,” or more accurately the lack of it. In 2018, the Oxford Dictionary named “toxic” as its top word. Toxic water. Toxic words. Even toxic personalities spewing bile across the screens we can’t put down. These are dark times, but they will pass.

This is why we celebrate the solstice. No one can argue when the sun stops and the sky turns toward the light. It is plain to see. Just like the truth.

Cold and dark aren’t just weather. They can describe our hearts and minds, too. Much work remains undone. So let the work warm us. Let the new voices speak — in ourselves and in our communities.

We know this now, as part of us always has. It’s a perfectly good reason to enjoy a sandwich and look toward the future.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 23, 2018 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.


Comments

  1. I’m going to throw something out here. The Range itself is not a rural area. It is by many definitions a sparsely populated urban area. We don’t rely on farms for a living.

    • http://trevor says

      You are absolutely right. A few things I took for granted: doing laundry whenever I wanted, getting snacks at all hours, and sounds. Parts of the metro are far too quiet. I was accustomed to sounds all night. Whether that be the din of voices off in the distance, bins of empties being poured into dumpsters, or the mines. I still haven’t adjusted to that. I miss that. The sounds were comforting. I find it bothersome that I move to a city and now wonder, “Hungry. Where food?” That was always a simple problem before. “Go laundromat. Go gas station.” I miss the 24 hour feeling.

      Although, I left prior to the downtowns being completely hallowed. So I guess take that for what its worth…

      While I am at it: My childhood range dialect does fit in here. Verb-Subject. Verb-Subject. Nothing more. I think immigrant populations just always speak that way. So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

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