“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
– From William Wordsworth’s The World Is Too Much With Us
Despite its being written centuries ago, Wordsworth’s poem rarely feels dated. Especially at Christmastime.
The greatest elixir I have found for that antsy feeling of dirty dendrites and sluggish synapses is the door that takes me from the confines of the house or office into the limitless and expanding universe.
Nature never lets me down.
And so, a few hours of drilling and hammering stainless steel screws into the aging boards of my dock on Wednesday, the dying battery of the tool insisting I take a break, the Carolina skiff and its 40 hp Suzuki grabbed my attention as certainly as dishes of candy on bank counters.
Late in the day, my mind said grab a Dogfish Hazy O, a portable speaker, jump in the skiff and head out toward Broad Creek and the Choptank to watch the sunset.
Who am I to argue with my mind?
As usual, nature came through with a spectacular sunset. Oranges, yellows, purples, blues and reds, a softly, silent, evolving explosion of color rippled through billowing textures. Passing geese sang for me above the flat and windless surface of the water.
Just a few hours earlier watermen carried on conversations from boat to boat as they tonged for oysters from the gunnels of their workboats. Then quiet replaced their chatter.
Taking a few photographs immersed me more in the scene. Sending them off to friends and relatives created a connection between us, an infinitely subtle electrical connection, and I thought of Walt Whitman singing the body electric.
The sunset was one spectacular gift. The next is the rising moon, waxing and coming into full on Sunday, Dec. 19, always worth a short or long walk outside after dark to bask in its cold and creamy December light. From a bridge, over a river, with its potential for artistic reflections, offers a great front-row seat.
And then, two days later, the best gift of all: the winter solstice on Dec. 21.
The pagans were no dummies. They knew that the end of waning daylight, and the beginning of longer and longer days ahead – for another six months – was well worth celebrating with dancing around crackling outdoor fires and goblets of hot grog – whatever that is.
It’s no coincidence that early calendar-makers pegged Christ’s purported birthdate to within just a few days of the solstice. The hope and power of the Christmas message synchronizes comfortably with the advent of longer days.
And with that comes my realization of the likely recipe for a celebratory grog: equal parts of full moon, beautiful sunset, winter solstice and love.
Don’t even try to leave out or substitute for the love. Fortunately for all of us, it is the one common denominator for the entire universe.
Dennis Forney grew up on the Chester River in Chestertown. After graduating Oberlin College, he returned to the Shore where he wrote for the Queen Anne’s Record Observer, the Bay Times, the Star Democrat, and the Watermen’s Gazette. He moved to Lewes, Delaware in 1975 with his wife Becky where they lived for 45 years, raising their family and enjoying the saltwater life. Forney and Trish Vernon founded the Cape Gazette, a community newspaper serving eastern Sussex County, in 1993, where he served as publisher until 2020. He continues to write for the Cape Gazette as publisher emeritus and expanded his Delmarva footprint in 2020 with a move to Bozman in Talbot County.