I woke up yesterday morning to about an inch of picturesque white snow; it was heavy and wet, and pretty certain not to last past noon. But the dogs larked around in it like rabbits before they came in for their breakfast, and when I headed out that morning the snow was beautiful, settled into the high boughs of the fir trees that line the roads. The season–whichever you want to call it–does really seem to be upon us, and for some reason inspires something genuinely energizing.
I have known many, many friends who find this time of year oppressive because of the lack of light; ironically, the two who were the most disturbed by it each told me they actually looked forward to the solstice, because it meant that from this point, the light was coming back—once we’ve rounded the 21st, the days will be getting longer again.
Living on the edge of the 49th parallel, this time of year it’s impossible not to notice how fast and how completely the darkness moves in, taking over large parts of the hours we usually count on to be bright and clear and productive.
Still, personally, I have always found something very soothing and safe about darkness. I look at the 49th parallel on a world map and sure enough, it also runs through the places my family originally came from: Germany, Bohemia. I have no trouble believing my response to light is genetic.
Human beings can easily believe other animals have particular times of day they belong in but we don’t think it can be true of us, and we’re generally wary of the night creatures: bats, possums, big owls making their odd noises. But that overlooks other things that are small and amazing: field mice, mink, flying squirrels. Most things out in the dark are happy to be left alone to their own business. They’re really not interested in interacting with anyone.
In that list of creatures of the night I would also include teenagers. In my own case it’s easy to recall the generous amounts of time I was out walking with friends in the dark—talking, smoking, roving around for miles in all kinds of weather just because we didn’t have anywhere else we felt safe, where we thought we could be ourselves. Most of us transitioned on to be comfortable in the daytime, though I may have been a slow bloomer—plenty of my life I have felt safest at night, by open water, and that was true well into my thirties.
I do love electricity and heat, the depths of blankets and comforters on my bed, this computer and the music devices in my house—all of it. But I still love getting out in the open air, even in full darkness.
Where I live there are places I can look across Puget Sound to Seattle; I can see the glow of the electric city, burning high into the night.
So much goes on in a city at night, much of it wonderful. But I think back to those teenagers and their walks. In an effort to surround ourselves with electric light and paved streets there has been a tradeoff: we’ve lost of the crispness of the night air, the quiet of a very dark evening, sudden breathtaking recognition that the sky is completely littered with stars.
So winter is here, and in the Pacific Northwest, today is probably never going to seem like more than twilight—the sky is overcast and lightly raining, soon it will bleed into inky darkness, raising that blood-level wariness in us that needs assurances the light will come back.
Give it a moment. Trust the darkness, and the animal side that knows its use. There is plenty to be learned and renewed in this time of year; information to be sat with, some maybe disturbing. But there are reasons for these rhythms.
A hot cup of tea beside a good lamp shakes it off, a glass of wine can soften the edges, and god knows there are plenty of social gatherings this time of year, to break the isolation.
Still, no matter how much energy we blast against it, however much we party it away, something running quietly inside us knows the darkness is there.
Solstice peace and insight to all of us, as we ride out the natural rotations of the planet.