Winter light, summer solstice

Dear Friends:

Today (well, two days now) is December 21, the shortest day of the year for most of you, but here in the Southern Hemisphere the solstice marks the beginning of summer. According to the ritual calendar of the Cañaris, Kapak Raymi is the second in the cycle of four raymis that mark the agricultural year that began in September with the planting of the crops. An intern from Oregon State University, Buddy Terry, and I spent a seven-hour day documenting the Kapack Raymi celebrations at a large school in Quilloac, sharing a lunch of guinea pig, walking a few miles, and shooting hundreds of photos and hours of video. We began with a morning outdoor ceremony (pictured above) that was a mix of Inca lore, Cañari ritual blessings (guy on right in white), giggling Cañari princesses and voice-over announcements by school administrators.In the afternoon we photographed a procession from the church in town to the school, about 4 kilometers, that took several hours. Pase del Niño Viajero is a Catholic tradition introduced by the Spanish that re-enacts the journey of Mary and Joseph with baby Jesus through towns and villages. Over the years the tradition has become a mix of the sacred and profane, incorporating many aspects of commercial North American Christmas. There was Mary on her donkey with a baby-Jesus doll, and a king or wise man or two, on horseback.

The rest of us walked, including these two little angels, along with anxious parents of near-toddlers dressed as santa clauses, campesinos with miniature live chickens, ballerinas, animals and more.

The older kids brought up the rear, dressed as priests, shepards, princesses and, for lack of a better costume, boxed presents. As the afternoon wore on the sky grew darker, the clouds came down, the little ones grew tired and so did this photographer. By 5:30 we were back at the school, where the dancing and music and fireworks were just getting going, but it was cold and dark, and for me time to come home for a glass of wine, the fire, and Michael. Buddy packed up his gear and headed for Cuenca, happy with his first day of a two-month internship.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

OK, Back to summer. It’s been in the high 60’s this week and everyone is complaining about the heat. Once you are accustomed to dressing in jeans, sweaters, jackets, boots and hat, with daytime temps in the low 60’s, having to peel off layers while sweating in the sun is a big bother. Being this close to the equator, our year-round twelve hours of daylight don’t vary much (we get an extra 15 minutes on December 21). But in the Andes “verano” or summer, means the dry season, or no rain. While in the coastal areas the solstice brings the rains, and so the season there is called invierno, or winter. Confusing.Our neighbors are complaining about this verano, as many have already planted crops. But until it rains they have to irrigate their fields with revolving access to water – about every two weeks. Our compadres planted this beautiful crop of fava beans in our back field before we came, and you can see the effects of regular irrigation. ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Some of you will remember we had a serious chimney fire a few years ago. Since then Michael has been musing on the problem that our fireplace was constructed without a clean-out door for access between fire box and chimney. Fireplaces are rare in Cañar, and ones that work even rarer – I’ve seen many an artificial flower arrangement sitting in the fireplaces of middle-class houses, while most country folk gather around the open fire in their kitchens on especially cold days. After we had a second, less-serious, fire a year or two ago, it was obvious we had to find a way to clean the soot and creosote from the fireplace flue without a clean-out door.

So this year Michael brought a special wire brush from Portland – too small a brush, judging by the photo on right – and by coincidence the day he went up on the roof I was reading about a 19th-century occupational hazard of chimney sweepers called – horribly -soot wart, a squamous cell lesion that leads to testicular cancer. A Dr. Percival Potts in 1775 made the connection between the exposure to soot of chimney sweepers, often young boys 8-12 years sent up the chimneys wearing only trousers and shirt, and occasionally naked, and cancer in later life. Social reform came with the Chimney Sweepers Act of 1834. Well, Michael was not naked, nor did he go up the chimney, but he did build a special ladder to get onto the second level of the roof, where he had to remove all the delicate ceramic tiles before he could get to the chimney.


He kept a hose handy for the first couple of nights, knowing the debris had been dislodged from the chimney flue but caught on the interior smoke shelf. Again, a clean-out door would have prevented this problem, a solution that would require totally rebuilding the fireplace and chimney.

However, all’s well that end’s well – and so from the warmth of our fire to yours, we send fond Season’s Greetings!

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PS: Cañar Book club will return in January.

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21 thoughts on “Winter light, summer solstice

  1. Judy and Michael,

    Wonderful photos. Thanks. I’v got to get myself back to Ecuador! And I need to carve out time to wrap up the Canar agrarian reform piece. I’ve been snowed under with the immigrant savings group study, the research on savings groups and the ultra poor and teaching but to be more honest procrastination and the courage to face a truly challenging undertaking.



  2. Thank you Judy for the photos and commentary. I love reading about your time in Ecuador. Sending you and Michael best wishes for the new year. Poppy

  3. Thanks Poppy – and to you and Larry too best wishes for the holidays. Come back to Cañar any time!

  4. Hi Judy…and hi to intrepid Michael. You do such good and important work in Ecuador…though, of course, I like it better when you’re in Portland! Happy holidays and merry christmashannukkwanza.

  5. HI Andrea – today I would love to be in Portland with you and my other girlfriends. Failing that, have a wonderful holiday drink for me…

  6. So wonderful!! As a big fava bean fan, I love the fava bean field photo! Of course I especially love the photos of the little ones at the festival.

  7. Janice – you really must come visit us one day and you can eat as many fava beans as you can stand… They are standard fare here, popped into the mouth with a bit of hot sauce….

  8. Thanks for the wonderful photos. The kids are especially fun to see.
    I think I’ve lost the scholarship contact info. Please send if you have time.
    Happy New Year to you both. And thanks again for last years treat!

  9. Seasonal greetings to Judy and ChimneySweep,
    As for the shortest day, we were on the midnight train to Bergen, 21st Dec ,then a dawn bus to the fjords, where we are with relatives. It grew somewhat light by 9:30 am, a twilight dawn, rain, mist and waterfalls coming, seemingly from the clouds, as well as mini waterfalls pouring into the snowbanks, and mist and white foaming rivers beside the valiant bus. Then a ferryboat, again in wind and mist, to Jondal. A land of water and rock, and now, 3 pm and darkness again, but warm and bright within. Happy times to you both in the altiplano. Richard, Liv

  10. Merry Christmas Judy and Michael!

    I remember the Christmas parade so well.

    Much love,

  11. I wish we were there with you at the other end of the world, with deep twilight and mist and waterfalls and white foaming rivers. Thrilling! If only we could travel virtually and not have to get on a 12-hour flight.
    Best wishes to you and Liv for these times and the new year….

  12. Dear Lisa – Funny, because I know we were all together in Cuenca for Christmas that year – was it 1993? – but I don’t remember the Pase del Niño parade. So glad you do! Once you are settled in your new life in Savannah, please plan a trip here to Cañar. And keep us up to date on the Big Move.

  13. So glad to hear Buddy’s first filming went well. Quito was great, the trip to St. Thomas was long. I arrived with a crick in my neck and David arrived with a bronchial infection. We seem to be on the mend now. My sister-in-law’s internet is not back and we lost all power last night. Lot’s of blue plastic over roofs. Despite these inconveniences, we have prime rib and lobster for holiday meals. We wish you both a wonderful holiday season.

  14. Buddy was great! On Tuesday we go to Suscal to meet with Magdalena around recording myths and legends and stories. During Kapak Raymi, he was invited by the prioste to film ALL eight days of the Fiesta de San Antonio – January 9-17. Glad it won’t be me. Have a happy holiday in St. Thomas despite the lack of Internet and blue plastic over roofs… (and here, we lost water last night)

  15. Happy Kapak Raymi! Fun to see the photos – and hear about chimney sweeping. Happy New Year…I hope the next post is about Año Viejo!

  16. Hey – stillhoping to grab Pedro but I don’t think it will happen now until next week. I photographed another procession yesterday – got some great photos of the musicians the brothers Guamán (you’ll remember from San Antonio). I’ll send you a few…Have a great Christmas with your kiddos!

  17. Hello Judy,
    I do love pouring a hot cup of coffee and sitting with your beautiful photographs and words! Thank you so much for transporting me from icy Portland to the fava field and festivals of your Ecuadorian stomping grounds. Happy Nee Year to you and your favorite Chimney Sweep!

  18. Judy, love getting your posts
    I’ve tried to contact you guys and it looks like the email addresses and phone numbers are out of date
    I was trying to contact Nicolas Quiroz and the phone number is also bad, I have a neighbor that needs some work done
    if you know how to contact him please let me know
    I hope you’re both well and happy


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