On today's episode, listen to a beautiful essay written and read by author, writer, and wool advocate, Clara Parkes, recorded in Maine, where she lives. Clara reflects on the dynamic celestial phenomenon of the Winter Solstice.
Adrienne: You’re listening to Reverberate, a podcast exploring our wide world of textiles and the people who grow, make, design, and wear them. Produced by A Verb for Keeping Warm in Oakland, California.
Hello and welcome back to another episode of Reverberate! Happy Solstice. My name is Adrienne Rodriguez and I’m here with…
Kristine: Kristine Vejar
Adrienne: In this episode we have a special audible treat for you. We asked our friend Clara Parkes, whom we consider the Godmother of wool, to write and read a piece reflecting upon the winter solstice and its role in our lives as makers.
Clara is a “New York Times-bestselling author, speaker, and wool advocate. She has dedicated her life to exploring the stories behind, and qualities of, all the fibers that we wear on our bodies—and taking readers along for the journey. Through her wool advocacy, writings, workshops, books, and television and radio appearances, Clara champions the notion of paying closer attention to what we put on our bodies and where it came from.
Without further ado, here is Clara Parkes reading an original essay just for you and especially for today, Winter Solstice 2022.
Reading by Clara Parkes
Hello everyone. This is Clara Parkes, and I am currently speaking to you from my farmhouse in Maine where it is 3:41 PM and the light is already starting to fade. Ah, December. I love when we approach this darkest day of the year. I love that nature gives us this celestial mile post and sort of magical reset button every year. Solstice is that blinking of the lights in the theater telling us that intermission is almost over, that the second act is about to begin, or maybe it's the first act in a new play? Solstice was not at all on my radar when I was growing up. Arizona couldn't even bother with daylight savings time. How was I supposed to keep track of the length of daylight myself? I continued not to care at all through college when all daylight did was tell me how many hours I had left before my paper was due, and I remained blissfully ignorant all the time I lived in San Francisco where the weather pattern is basically the same 365 days a year, foggy in the morning, bright midday, foggy again in the evening, rinse and repeat. Oh, is it darker on today's commute? I just thought that was because I was working 12 hour days so I could afford my apartment. But once we escaped to Maine and to a very rural Maine at that, the position of the sun in the sky began to matter. I began to pay attention to how the sun's light impacted my own internal light. Now, nature rules everything in Maine. I mean, I know it does it everywhere, but especially in Maine, nature is a dominant force. We are just guests. Every time I step outside, I'm reminded of this, and in this world ruled by nature, the sun reigns supreme. She is the pendulum by which our days and weeks and seasons swing.
The easiest illustration of the sun's impact would be, of course, outside in the natural world, take tomatoes. If I put a tomato plant outside in the field right now in December, and even if I stood there with a space heater and put a tent around us to keep it warm, that plant would survive, but it wouldn't really grow or thrive. For that it needs a quality of sunlight we just don't have right now and for at least eight hours a day. No, the sun does not have that to offer right now. This is dark time. Right now, the sun gets up around seven and she spends a long time yawning herself awake. Then she makes a low sweep along the horizon, casting these long spindly shadows across the landscape before tiring out after two, and spending the next hour and a half preparing for bed, by 3:45 PM it's lights out. For years and years I used to fight this darkness by staying as busy as I could. I kept the lights on. I cranked up the music. I stacked up the deadlines. I intentionally disconnected from what was happening outside for fear of what I don't really know. The darkness itself? It wasn't until that first pandemic winter when things had become truly dark. I couldn't keep myself busy anymore because everything had stopped. The only thing we could do was leap right into the darkness, embrace it, spend as much time as I could outside, and then stock up on candles and twinkle lights and cozy woolens and just go for it. Let my mind drift from that bright unblinking task-oriented world of daylight and into the slower, more mysterious, contemplative place of dimmed lights and deep shadows and the unknown.
We've been trained to believe that it's virtuous to sit under sun lamps for 18 hours a day, 12 months a year, dousing ourselves with higher and higher amounts of miracle grow and feeling really bad about ourselves when we don't produce endless bushels of fruit. It's impossible. You can't grow anything on soil that hasn't been given some time to rest and replenish. That's what winter is about. That's what this time of darkness is about. This is when nature sends her cue to rest, to join the plants and go into hibernation, to let ourselves be quiet, maybe tidy up any mess that the last year has left. Put all that to bed and rearrange our mental furniture to better reflect who we are now and how we want the next 12 months to unfold. Now, as much as I love wool the rest of the year, and I suspect you have an idea of how much I love it, it becomes my dearest and truest companion during these cold winter months. I love having an excuse to wrap myself up in layer upon layer upon layer of wool. In fact, while I'm out walking, one of my favorite games is to count how many objects I'm wearing that contain some amount of wool. 1, 2, 3. I usually lose count. Have to start again. The highest I've ever gotten was 14.
Now it was below zero out and my boots had a wool lining. So that was two bonus points right there, right? But I was completely cozy, comfy. I could have stayed out there for hours. Imagine that must be what it feels like to be a sheep. Wool does so much to ease the scary parts of being human, the bangs and flashes and thumps and bumps and fumes and flames and storms. It does all that. But there's one thing wool doesn't do. It won't generate light for us. Have you ever heard of a wool lamp? No. So the fact that wool eases so many of our worries and fears, but it intrinsically and actively will not generate light tells me that perhaps darkness is not something to be feared at all. If nature sets the pendulum by which we all swing, and if she has set her world into hibernation, aren't we part of that world?
Does she not expect us too? To go into hibernation? This is our time to go slow and go inward. We are not meant to bear fruit right now, so I invite you to join me in savoring these last few fallow days before the light really starts to return. Take the time to bundle yourself in wool and regroup. Take a mental inventory. Think about how you want that next pendulum swing to be. What you would like to do, who you'd like to become, and who you'd like to see bundled up in wool the same time next year. Enjoy this soft and secret bonus time. Be not afraid. Embrace the gentle darkness and know that soon enough the sun will return. Happy solstice, everyone.
Kristine: To hear more from Clara, join her newsletter, The Daily Respite. And if you love wool like we do, follow Clara on The Wool Channel, A member-supported platform, publication, and community dedicated to giving wool a voice in the world.
A big thank you to Clara Parkes for bringing us closer to what solstice can mean. Until next time. Keep warm.
Clara Parkes is an accomplished writer with books sharing her experiences and journeys through a wooly universe. Her books include: Vanishing Fleece, Knitlandia, A Stash of One’s Own, The Yarn Whisperer, The Knitter’s Book of Socks, The Knitter’s Book of Yarn, or maybe The Knitter’s Book of Wool.
Check out: The Wool Channel: A member-supported platform, publication, and community dedicated to giving wool a voice in the world.