According to the definition of the solstice, it is a time when the sun appears to stand still. Solstice comes from the Latin sol for sun and sistere for stand still. At the moment of the solstice, the angle between the sun’s rays and the earth’s equator looks like it doesn’t change for a long period of time – appearing to stand still. This struck me strongly at a time of year that includes very little standing still. People are more likely to be scurrying about getting ready for holidays and visitors and racing into the new season and the New Year.

I’m not nearly as astronomically inclined as I am coastally, however, but in the days around the solstice I visited the shore and noticed that it too was standing still. The first ice had formed over the surface and was “stilling” what is usually water that is very much in motion. I’m exaggerating a bit, as ice has its own movements and they certainly can be dramatic. But, the impression that the surface ice gives is to literally freeze things in the place that they are and to, like the sun’s position, make time seem to stand still for a stretch.

As the New Year begins, there is a lesson in this stillness and the way that it makes us take notice of things that are usually constantly in motion. It is an opportunity to appreciate the natural world around us and to make careful observations that might otherwise be overwhelmed by changing conditions. Instead of watching the waves, I notice the patterns of light on the slabs of ice piled up along the rocks. Instead of looking at an expanse of water, the eye is drawn to focus closer in on smaller details.

The reality is that there is a lot changing underneath all of that ice. Lots of creatures are waiting out the cold, dark winter in the depths and as the ice turns and moves, it stirs things up in their otherwise quiet world. We can put that into the context of all that is changing in the larger picture in the oceans. In the year ahead, the temperature is likely to continue to rise, as is the height of the water along the shore. Add to that the increase in storms and extraordinary weather events that are becoming more the norm and it quickly becomes clear how important it is to find any point of stillness to stop and just notice the beauty of now.

A new year means a new opportunity to appreciate the rarity of what we have in Maine. For all of the popularity of and number of uses upon our waters, they are remarkably undeveloped. There are plenty of places in the world where this is not the case and every harbor is filled with industrial activity both on the shore and in the water. Mainers have placed a high enough value on the pristine character of our waters to prioritize protecting their wildness. There is recognition of the value of looking out across an uninterrupted expanse of water, or ice at this time of the year. It’s akin to looking up at the black night sky and feeling a comfort at the openness before you. There isn’t a way to put a specific dollar value on that, but we certainly feel it when we don’t get enough of it. The frenetic pace of modern life can lead to a fragmentation of thoughts and emotions that can somehow be put back together in the calm continuity of nature.

Perhaps the cold, dark stillness of winter is an invitation to rediscover this power and the remarkable ability that we have in Maine to enjoy it – a bit of stillness to prepare for a winter of gratitude and appreciation.

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