Candlemas, From Ice to Light

Each year, I strive to find  personal meaning in Imbolc/Candlemas. The Pagan festival of the birth of lambs has nothing to do with my life. I don’t live on a farm. There are no sheep or lambs frolicking merrily on hills nearby. Nor, am I a personal devotee of the Goddess Bridget, although I do have honor and a great respect for Her.
The beginning of Feb. in New England is much too early to be looking forward to Spring. Looking towards Spring in early Feb. would be raising a false hope which would thereafter be dashed deep into the frozen ground by the stark reality of two more months of snowstorms followed by a month of ice storms. I don’t allow the Jan. thaw to fool me. I won’t allow Candlemas to fool me, either. My corner of the world does not start to thaw until the middle of April and does not blossom until early May.  So, while Imbolc/Candlemas may have brought the hope of an early Spring to the ancient Celts, it’s still dark, frigid and blustery in North Central Massachusetts, with no end in sight until the Turning of the Wheel on Beltane.
A recent event radically brought Candlemas to my mind. That recent event will go down in local history as the Great Ice Storm of ’08.  We New Englanders weather Spring ice storms each year. There’s always some debris from broken branches in our yards and the danger of slippery roads for traveling. Ice storms are very pretty, beautiful even, but not fun.
This year, for the first time that any of us can remember in our lifetimes, we had an ice storm in December. Not March, not April, December. Yup, this is the land of 40- 60 degree temperature changes in one day. The joke about New Englanders skiing in shorts and a parker is a reality, not a joke. The Yankee saying, ‘if you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a minute’ is very true. Sort of.
Dec. 11, 2008 started out as an usually warm and rainy day. A torrential torrent of about three to four inches of rain fell in the afternoon. The remnant of the storm froze to sleet during the early evening. That night, the temperature tumbled down to just ten degrees above zero.
Darkness fell upon 21 towns in my area of north-central Mass/southern NH. Highways and most roads in each town were closed. Massive power outages had occurred. Entire electrical grids had been destroyed. Main power lines were down, everywhere.
While I was aware that our power had gone out, I didn’t realize the immensity of what had taken place during the previous night until I tried to drive to work the next morning.
It was like entering an alien world. Tall trees had been cracked in half as if lightning had struck thousands of them at once while picking and choosing the next victim from amongst the survivors. Fallen trees were strewn carelessly across the road, one after another, as if a tornado had touched down every quarter of a mile. Never, had I driven over one power line after another after another as if they were merely markers along the road. I had to drive in the opposite lane around the edges of ice-laden fallen trees and slowly sneak beneath power lines that grazed the roof of my car, hoping against hope that they were not live wires. I will never forget that eerie, other-worldly ride to work for as long as I live. Of course, there was no power or phone lines at work.
For as far as I could see, the world around me was encased beneath inches-thick ice. The surviving trees were bent low to the ground. They groaned and creaked beneath the enormous weight of the ice. Toppled telephone poles in the center of towns made you wonder if someone had set off a series of bombs.
Areas that were once private were now in full view due to the massive, wide-spread devastation. I dread to see the woods when I walk on the trails this Spring. It will make me cry.
Everyone had a story. Within my own family, there was a tree that broke through the roof and living room ceiling, two cars were dented and windshields smashed beneath fallen trees, each and every transformer blew along the road before the telephone poles toppled to the ground, appliances were lost during a power surge. A friend lay awake all night, listening to the trees, limbs and ice surrounding his home come crashing to the ground.
Stores, gas stations and work-places were closed. When one small store opened due to the use of a generator, we lined up for coffee, sharing our stories with strangers.
The headline of one local newspaper was most apt, “CRUSHED”.
I had to drive a total of 12 miles before I found cell-phone service. I immediately called my visiting daughter to warn her not to drive home to Boston in order to go to work. At that very moment, she was stopped in her car on the way to the gas station, stunned. Before her lay a scene that she described as being possible only in a disaster movie. Two large trees lay across the road stacked one upon one another. On top of the trees lay two telephone poles, the total height of which dwarfed the policemen who were frantically waving to her to immediately turn around.
Next, I called my two youngest sons to warn them not to venture out of their home as a state of emergency had been declared by the governor. Naturally, they were out joy-riding with their video cameras. Figures, I sighed to myself. My husband was out and about in the process of trying to save thousands of dollars worth of tropical fish.
This was the first year that we did not have a wood stove. By the night of Dec. 12th, the interior temp of the house swiftly dove down to 46 degrees. My son’s house was down to 31 degrees. My husband, daughter and I decided to take a brief drive in order to warm up in the truck before hunkering down for the night. We drove up the hill to an old cemetery. The stark, cold beauty we encountered there was virtually indescribable.
It was the night of the full moon. There was not an artificial light anywhere around, for miles and miles. The moon lit up the icy panorama around us. There was just the light of that brilliant, huge, white moon hanging, seemingly almost within reach, above us and nothing else. Two tall trees had survived the storm. The canopies of the trees shone with what seemed to be an interior light shining from within the ice, so bright was the Snow Moon that night. The world around us sparkled and glittered as if a fountain of diamonds had opened from the cosmos and became embedded in the trees and blanketed the Earth. I simply had to stand outside in that severe cold in order to breathe in the beauty and bask in the quiet, sparkling solitude.
Later on that night, I gazed out the window close to midnight. The entire outdoors was ablaze with a cold, dazzling, glittering ice-fire so bright I could see everything as clear as day. I had never seen anything like this. I was awestruck.
This was our first winter without a wood stove due to a recent move. But, being a nun, deaconess and witch, you can be assured that I always have plenty of candles on hand. We filled each room with natural light and spent the evening playing cards, talking and laughing together, huddled beneath shawls, sweaters and fingerless gloves.
As I fell asleep that night, I realized what Candlemas was going to mean to me from now on because of the Great Ice Storm of ’08. The awe-inspiring natural beauty that I had witnessed on the night of the Snow-Moon, the night of the glowing ice-fire, was a once in a life-time event
As I write this, it is now nine days after the storm. We were of the lucky few who received our power back after only three days. We were able to shelter family members within the renewed warmth of our home this past week.  Most towns have had their power restored yet, there are still many within each town who don’t have it back. Some have wood stoves. Some have generators. Many are staying in hotels and shelters. Several towns have been told it will be another two or three weeks because it is not just a matter of restringing wires but rather, it’s a matter of rebuilding the destroyed grids from the ground up. We have received help from the National Guard and from power companies from as far away as Indiana and Ohio down to PA, Tennessee and Fla. All are working tirelessly, 16-18 hour shifts. They will be missing Christmas with their families. We are so grateful for their assistance.
What will Candlemas mean to me, now? For me, Candlemas will forever be a celebration of the moon-struck, ice frosted dance of nature that I was so very privileged to witness. It will be a remembrance of the many who traveled from so far away to help us for, without their help, we would still be in the cold and dark. When I light my 13 candles on Candlemas in my cauldron strewn with herbs, I will remember and know that no matter how dark or cold the night, the moon will always cast its protective glow upon my world. My ritual will be a celebration of the natural light of the many candles that guarded us from the encroaching house-darkness.  Yule may represent the re-birth of the infant Sun, but Candlemas will mean that the Light is always there during the long, winter night, reflected by the moon, the ice and shining within the candle-light and the hearth-fire.  We are never alone in the dark. There is always Light.
May you all have a Happy New Year and a very Blessed Candlemas.