Winter Solstice: Musings On the Underworld, Being a Humanimal, and the Sacredness of Celebration From Our Director

Firefly’s Director Marissa Percoco dives deep into the ideas of voluntary simplicity, and of emphasizing the animal in humanimal in daily life, to sew into your own musings for the year to come.

As we approach the Winter Solstice–the longest night of the year–I stand in my outdoor kitchen, washing dishes. The icy cold air stings my lungs as I breathe in and savor the joy of hot water running over my hands. I gaze toward the silhouette of the Blue Ridge Park mountainscape that I gratefully greet each time I’m at the sink, today pondering frost trolls chasing Freyja down the slopes in her sled, led by bounding, beautiful, and terrifying great cats.

From my perspective, the sun sets a bit more south than west and a few minutes earlier each day.  In the summer, the sun blazes a high arc across the sky and sets fire to the west, dissolving in a sea of liquid golden glory.  This time of year, however, the sun hesitantly edges its way just to the pinnacle of the gray mountain I share this river valley with, then creeps behind the peak before 4:00 PM–too sleepy to linger any longer.

Solstice is a mysterious and magical time. I have spent years witnessing the sun’s journey with my friends and children, as it travels into the underworld for the longest time it will spend there each year. The mythology my family cherishes is that without us humans singing, praying and keeping vigil with candles, burning yule logs and feasting, the sun would not be able to find its way back.  It would be lost wandering in the underworld forever and we’d be plunged into eternal darkness. And so we embrace the sacred responsibility of staying awake, of celebrating and calling back the sun. 


As the sun sojourns in the underworld, Solstice is also a dark and fertile womb time for planting the seeds that will germinate in the new year.  Tugging at the threads of creativity that stream from the tapestry of life, I muse and mull on the idea of voluntary simplicity, of emphasizing the animal in humanimal. For much of my life, I have lamented being human, and for much of my life I have given thanks. Today I consider the juxtaposition of washing my blender (dirty from making a sacred cheesecake) outside in freezing temperatures, gazing at the most gorgeous view and realizing that I want this wobbly wonky life; I need it, even, to stay sane!  

I am a humanimal. I need the raw connection with Earth, the song of the birds rousing me; leaves in my hair with the moon my guide at night; to know where my food comes from and to drink wild water; to feel the soothing input of nature upon my eyes, my ears, my nose, my entire being.  I love that I wake early and get to poop outside; my outhouse faces east, so I witness the sun rise almost every morning, the crescendo of the dawn chorus resounding all around me. It amazes me, the beauty I behold in these precious early morning moments, a self imposed ritual built around the mundane.  For me, this is how I inhabit an intentional life.  

From there I go to the bees and have my morning tea with them, listening to the low humming vibrations of a happy hive. Next up, the chickens and sheep, my scraps from last night’s dinner, their absolute delight. Again, the mix of domestic and wild, food and friend. Moving through the landscape, chickadees and goldfinches singing, from my outdoor kitchen to the forest, the edges continue to blur. I love tending fire for warmth and swimming in ice cold rivers; working with the bounty of Earth for food, medicine, materials; sleeping in a monster pile in the wilderness with my friends to feel complete.  I also love making lasagna and cheesecake; inhabiting a warm insulated nest, enjoying a good book and alone time to cozy up with my creativity.  I am grateful for a reality in which I can have both, choosing this mismatched weaving of old and new; near and far; modern and ancient, inner wealth and material freedom. 

I cherish this community that is an integral part of my life, and the opportunity to share Solstice musings both in person and over the interwebs. In this season of Dark Nights, what divine sparks of creativity are you courting?  Which idea is ripe and ready for you to nourish? What relationships need mending, or releasing? What inspirational fires need your tending?

Blessings of warmth, community and creativity from all of us here at The Firefly Gathering to each of you this holiday season.  May we each plant seeds of deep reciprocity and peace this Solstice, and nourish the humanimal within us all, so we can be united and steadfast in the new year.

About the author:

Marissa Percoco is the Executive Director of the Firefly Gathering. Having grown up in the concrete labyrinth of the San Francisco bay Area, Marissa escaped to the wilds in college and has never looked back! She is a naturalist by heart, and her curiosity about how nature works has been leading her “down crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, trails, leading to the most amazing views,” for much of her adult life. Now nesting on a little farmstead on the ancestral lands of the Aniyvwiya or An-igiduwagi (Cherokee) people, (now known as Barnardsville, NC,) Marissa is deeply rooted in the Earthskills movement, anti-oppression work, her garden, and the old Appalachian soil.

Photos courtesy of Kelsey Brown of Sunswept Farm


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Lily Harlin


Lily is an artist, creator, and dreamer. Since a very young age, she has been immersed in the natural world and draws heavy inspiration from the wild. Though her medium changes frequently, Lily’s art and expression always incorporate an element of the organic and unpredictable. She got her associate in fine arts in 2023, and now volunteers at her school as a ceramic studio monitor. She hopes to open a studio of her own one day to have a place to teach and inspire others. In addition to doing commission work, Lily has been creating many graphics for The Firefly Gathering since 2019. Lily grew up in the Earthskills community from the time she was eight years old, so having the opportunity to grow and give back in so many ways has been incredibly fulfilling. No matter where she ends up, this group of people and ideas will always hold a special place in her heart.