The shortest day of the year – winter solstice – is here. From this day forward for the next six months each day gets a couple more minutes between sunrise and sunset.

Not being a student of physics or the natural sciences, I marvel at the reliability of our planet shifting regularly on its axis, tilting predictably and reliably back toward the sun each winter solstice. And in the opposite direction at each summer solstice. More poet than scientist, I get to be in awe if not in full understanding.

There is always this little bit of apprehension: what if this blue planet once missed its date to retreat and kept on tilting, tilting, tilting?

A few days ago I was off work for a busy day of holiday-related errands. But I took an hour out to walk the trails at Laumeier Sculpture Park in Sunset Hills. It was a mild winter day, good for walking the Eastern Woodland trails.

The winter sunlight through bare branches lends a fresh look at the exhibits, some which took me by surprise. Some of the Eastern Woodland trail was new territory for me in the park. I think the last time I walked at Laumeier was on a warm and humid day cloaked with the dark greens and shadows of summer. In the winter, those veils are stripped away.

There are nearly two miles of trails in the 105-acre park. Some are paved and some are dry-leaf-soaked woodland paths that require some alertness to follow. The terrain rises and falls.

And often, there are the “0h!” moments of art and sculpture, some of which I have never before noticed. (Those hanging cables with clips really are a dog run!).

Be sure to also take in the indoor David Hutson neon exhibit which is on display through Jan. 13.

The feasting of the holidays is delightful. But so is the opportunity to walk in winter sunlight, especially to some places made new by the season.

Those Last Minute Gifts

Local shops are the perfect place for those last minute gifts and stocking stuffers. These are the places that most appreciate the gift of your business. These are the places that give our communities character, that make us towns rather than the sprawl of suburbia.

Expect some unusual and interesting finds. Discover some exceptional service. Maybe it will be at your local, independently-owned hardware store, a boutique and gift shop or a place that sells specialty soap. It may be at a gallery that features local artists. Books are always welcome – and gift cards from a local, family-owned restaurant.

A gift in hand from your neighborhood is many times more thoughtful than an Amazon rush order.

We at the Times wish you and yours a Christmas season with family, warmth, safety, good food and time for winter walks at local parks. Merry Christmas!