ON THE AIR with LINDA MASON HUNTER
In the Zone
Celebrate the Winter Solstice
The winter solstice is my favorite winter holiday, a celebration of midwinter occurring every year on December 21st, the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night.
I usually wake before daybreak and head out to Hanging Rock county park 1/2 mile south of Redfield, Iowa, a 40 minute drive west of Des Moines (where I live) on Interstate 80. Named for the sandstone rocks overhanging the Middle Raccoon River, the park is steeped in history, including an indigenous astronomical stone clock indicating the exact location of sunrise on the first day of each quarter of the year. It’s interesting to see just how far the sun travels as it’s marked on the ground.
Each year, if enough people sign up, the Dallas County Conservation Board hosts a free winter solstice gathering--complete with bonfire, poetry, and mythology--beginning at 7:30 the morning of the 21st. Registration is required so if you’re interested, call Sherry James at 515-465-3577.
I’m planning to be there, thermos of hot coffee firmly held in my mittened hand (it's usually cold out there, some years very cold). I bring a bouquet of sage from my garden to burn in the fire, and set some meaningful intention to get me mindfully through the depths of winter. If I'm in the right mood, the event can be a mystical experience, grounding me in my place and purpose on the planet.
I love hanging out with writers and artists. They inspire me with their appreciation of beauty, keen perceptions, and careful word choice. One of my hometown favorite writers is Mary Kay Shanley who posts a newsletter every month, and often asks if I have anything to contribute. I have never said no. Here's my essay on friendship in her July, 2017 newsletter.
By Linda Mason Hunter
Jayme and I were girlfriends. We did girlfriend things together. It started in the mid-1980s with “Friday Afternoons,” a casual salon centered around frank, honest discussion—three knowledge-hungry psychologists and me, a stuttering journalist nursing a childhood wound. In no time these wise and witty women became my support group.
Though busy mothers in our 30s and 40s—juggling families and careers, tiptoeing through a minefield of challenges—we managed to show up at 4:00 on the afternoon of the third Friday each month for the better part of 20 years. Boldly and tirelessly we navigated personal relationships, shared secrets, pondered life’s persistent questions, and laughed. We laughed at everything. We took strength from one another. We were girlfriends.
The idea for “Friday Afternoons” originated with Sandra and Jayme, office mates at Broadlawns, the Polk County hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. Jane Rock worked there, too. Soon Sandra, Jayme and Jane formed a threesome. When Sandra introduced me to the group, we four forged a quick, natural, and lasting bond. That memorable night culminated with the four of us inebriated in a taxi, revealing (at Jayme’s urging) the sacred wisdom our mother’s bequeathed to us. When my turn came I solemnly recited my heart’s mantra, earnestly passed from my grandmother to my mother then to me: “Everything works out for the best,” I intoned from the center of my sincerity. The taxi Immediately exploded with laughter, thereby shredding my last thread of innocence. From that moment on girlfriends became my safety net.
Wine was the Friday afternoon sacrament of choice, except for Jayme; she drank beer. Five o’clock found us headlong in conversation, seeking to understand our pre-teen children, the intricacies of the human brain, world politics, why people behave the way they do; sharing secrets, pondering life’s persistent questions, and laughing. Always laughing. Honesty was the only rule.
Our families (difficult constellations of yours, mine, and ours) challenged each of us in different ways. Sandra was the primary mother of five stepchildren, each a year or two apart. I was blending my two with my husband’s two under the same roof. But Jayme’s family took the prize for complication. Children from her first marriage shared half siblings from two other mothers and two separate fathers.
Of the four of us Jayme told the best stories. A wicked mimic with a gift for physical humor, she could send me into fits of laughter until my sides ached. She could draw and paint pictures. How she could paint pictures! Of the four of us she possessed the most talent.
Friday Afternoons led to slumber parties and pure silliness. Jayme brought the latest Cosmo and made us take the quiz. Eventually we traveled together—a weekend in Kansas City for Sandra's 50th. (Jayme held Sandra's hand while she got her ears pierced). Omaha for my 60th. Cabin weekends in Wisconsin playing Scattergories, grilling salmon, and canoeing down the Flambeau backwards. When Jane moved to Seattle, we visited for a week in the mountains, hot tubbing in a pine wood, hiking to a pure mountain lake, and (most memorably) donning body-clinging wet suits for a wild white water raft down the Wenatchee River. We spent a week on the Mexican Rivera. In memory vivid as an October morning I see Jayme walking barefoot in the sand looking relaxed and happy and absolutely smashing, her big red hair barely contained under a floppy wide-brimmed hat, sandals carelessly dangling from the hand at her side.
Jayme loved her children with a ferocity that outmatched even my own. Her parenting advice remains the soundest I’ve ever heard: "The goal is to love your kids unconditionally, use M&Ms when needed, and get to the car without saying ‘Goddammit.'" Her grandchildren never failed to delight her. When my first grandchild was born Jayme sent me roses.
Jayme was my girlfriend. We sang and danced and giggled and skipped and did girlfriend things together. She always told us she’d die first. Godspeed, Jayme. Here’s to a peaceful crossing. I know you aren’t far away.
Speaking of Friendship
No one can make me laugh like Suzanne Summersgill can. She's the co-author and illustrator of Three Green Rats, An Eco Tale. My Vancouver touchstone. www.pinnstudio.com