High Light:
The Winter Solstice


The word was coming down the pipeline via e-mail: December 22, 1999 would be a truly special full moon on the Solstice. How bright, how close, how special, exactly when, and why were up for enormous discussion. But for days, there were "forwards" from around the globe about this very special occurrence, whatever it was to be.

According to an article by Robert Monroe in the Los Angeles Daily News on December 19th, there would be "a confluence of events that last occurred together in 1866." The moon would be at its closest point to Earth; at the same time, the Earth would be at one of its closest points to the Sun. Additional ingredient: the Northern Hemisphere would experience its longest night. Winter Solstice. The sun would be shining on the moon with greater intensity, causing the moon to appear its brightest since 1930.

Quoting Monroe: "Police and mystics said they expect this week's lunar confluence coming 10 days before the new century will spur more lunacy than typical during a full moon."

Monroe stated that Ed Krupp, Director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, was playing down the importance of the event: "Even though the moon will be 25 percent brighter than a 'normal' full moon, it won't appear much different than last month's full moon. It's just one of those minor congruences of phenomena that occur." A lot of people seemed in agreement that the tides would be exceptionally high on December 22nd.

1930, 1912, 1866: which record were we trying to beat? I didn't really care. I was heading back up to Arcata and concluded that I wanted to celebrate the Solstice and the full moon (or some proximity thereof) on the beach with Peter, our friends Cindy & Steve, and Bridgit.

Our favorite ocean spot near home in Arcata is Mad River Beach. It's about a ten-minute drive down very narrow roads through wide-open fields under the watchful eyes of some great looking bovine creatures. The closer you get to the beach, the more openly defiant the housing is of building codes. Being from the East Coast where you seldom see a deserted stretch of beach, it always amazes me to pull into the parking lot at Mad River Beach. More than four cars and it feels as if the County is becoming overpopulated.

Cindy counted the cars that night: 35 of them! Stepping out of the car and walking across the dunes, we were greeted by drumming which was echoing all along the beach, bonfires, and lots of people who were out exploring the "congruences," just like we were. As we got closer, we could see that most of the humans were young -- in their 20's and 30's -- and there were lots of small children and dogs as well. The moon was already up high in the sky above the dunes. There was a syncopated kind of rhythm going between the various bonfires and that moon, and the beat was extended by the drumming all up and down the beach. That beach is usually freezing even in summer, but the night of December 22nd, the wind was friendly, and the temperature unseasonably welcoming.

We hauled Bridgit up to the top of a dune, and Steve and I started photographing her. She looked like she was nesting in the grasses with the moon directly above her.

Full moon on the dunes at Mad River Beach, Arcata, California, 1999 copyright Pam Mendelsohn

There was a gathering by a bonfire directly below us, and I couldn't resist. While the others stayed back, I hauled Bridgit down to the fire. The young people there didn't seem the least surprised to see either one of us, inviting us to join them. Given that I was twice as old as any of them, I thought I should provide reassurance that I was not a police person in disguise. When I said as much, one of the young men laughed and said: "You don't exactly look the type, and neither does your friend." Good point.

I took a series of photographs in which Bridgit is reflecting the glow of the fire. She appeared to be elongating in front of that fire.

 Elongating before a bonfire at Mad River Beach, Arcata, California, 1999 copyright Pam Mendelsohn

At one point, I was across the fire from her, and I realized I was seeing things. She had a mask where her face would have been. Just as I was turning away, one of the young men said: "Look. She has a mask." I grabbed the camera. Did the camera lens see what we saw?

From there, we started to wander back to the car. I set Bridgit down on the flat part of the beach with her back to the ocean. I have no idea why she looks as if she is surrounded by mist.

 Surrounded by mist at Mad River Beach?  Arcata, California 1999 copyright Pam Mendelsohn

Another group that included more young adults, some preteens, a few dogs, and several drums invited us. They welcomed Bridgit with open arms, placing her behind one of the drums.

 Bridgit is invited to sit in, Mad River Beach, Arcata, California, 1999 copyright Pam Mendelsohn

A preteen stood behind her, enfolding her.

Bridgit is welcomed with open arms, Mad River Beach, Arcata, California, 1999 copyright Pam Mendelsohn

I took my film into the familiar one hour processing place the next day. When I went back to pick up the prints, the person who was working on my film was quite flustered. He said that he could get all of the images to print out as usual except for two. He kept trying and trying, but the machine simply could not process those negatives as 4 by 6-inch prints. It processed them instead as panoramas. There was Bridgit, truly elongated, and if you look carefully, you will see her "mask."

What did we see?  Mad River Beach, Arcata, California, 1999 copyright Pam Mendelsohn

I suppose with Photo Shop, it would be easy to pull off something like that image. But we did it by the light of the moon that was shining down on a warm bonfire at the very end of the 20th Century.



About Bridgit
Bridgit in Malta
Bridgit at St. Brigid's
She Floats!
High Light: The Winter Solstice
Excursion to Primal Decor
Getting to Know Felicity


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