“The winter solstice has always been special to me as a barren darkness that gives birth to a verdant future beyond imagination, a time of pain and withdrawal that produces something joyfully inconceivable, like a monarch butterfly masterfully extracting itself from the confines of its cocoon, bursting forth into unexpected glory.” Gary Zukov
Today is the solstice. In the Pacific Northwest, we will have eight and a half hours of daylight. But wait until June when this number is nearly doubled, and we all become monarch butterflies.
I minded the darkness more when I was working than I do now. Driving to work in the dark and driving home in the dark made it seem like I was living in a twenty-four hour night. Now I can get up at seven, see daylight coming and not think so much about its loss.
I checked other cities, ones my husband and I love, to find out how they were faring. We will have fifteen minutes more light than Paris, the City of Light, and nearly an hour more than Amsterdam.
But we’re all more fortunate than residents of Reykjavik, who will have a four-hour day, and Swedes in Stockholm who are enjoying only six hours of light. We’ve tried to imagine what it would be like to stay in these two cities for a lengthier period, a few months rather than a few weeks. A spokeswoman for Reykjavik’s tourist information center reminds us that they have many hot pools in town, which would surely raise one’s spirit on cold, dark days. Swedes probably take saunas. Still, you can only sit in a large bathtub for so long, so the moral of the story is: if we were to go to Iceland or Sweden in winter, we would need to bring a good and very long book.
People in northern countries have to get used to delayed gratification when it comes to temperature and light. Having been to both these northern cities during the June solstice, we can appreciate how nicely they are rewarded in summer for their patience in winter: Reykjavik, 22 hours of daylight, and Stockholm, 18.
We’ll be fine today because the sun is shining, but our normally rainy winters do make some people depressed. The consequence of a steady string of dark, dreary days for some is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I had a boss who became very cranky by the end of January and I always advised him to take a trip.
SAD is “thought to occur when daily body rhythms become out-of-sync because of the reduced sunlight.”
The easiest solution to the SAD problem — other than joining the geese and flying south — is the light box therapy lamp, which you turn on for a short time each morning to brighten your mood for the day. We bought one, but have not yet used it. Perhaps we should visit Iceland to try it out. We’ll take that and a large book.
Here in the center of California we will get a little over 9 hours of daylight on these short winter’s days. Our longest day in summer is 14 hours and 41 minutes. I love those days, but even more than for the daylight is the heat. Our high temperature today is 52 degrees. I walked to the mailbox and wanted so much for the return of our 90+ degree days. I like to be warm.
Thanks for the quote by Gary Zukov—it’s years since I read ‘The Seat of the Soul’. I read online that he is 75, and alive. I love your thoughts on winter in the Pacific Northwest, and share the shortening of days with you. (I live in British Columbia, Canada). I was given the therapy lamp as a gift, and find it beneficial.
Loved this and also your holiday letter. Both were very thoughtful and conjured up lots of pictures in my mind.