By Ashley Lodato

First of all, you may notice that I have a new photo accompanying my column this week. Over the weekend I attended a holiday party where I was introduced to quite a few valley residents and part-timers who I hadn’t met before. After the sixth new acquaintance said some version of “Oh, I know you from the newspaper. But you’re so much … grayer… in real life than in your picture,” I decided it was time to either update my photo or start coloring my hair; you can see which choice I made. (And if you’ve been wondering how small-town familiarity and frankness manifest themselves, now you have some indication.)

Second, next week I’d like to write about different people’s Christmas and Hanukah traditions, so please write or call me with your stories, especially if they are somewhat unique practices. And if your family celebrates in some truly unusual way, please do share; you know how we all love a dose of the unconventional.

Thursday (Dec. 21) is the winter solstice and I know I’m not the only one looking forward to longer daylight hours beginning afterwards. And yet there is something so appealing about the dark, I can’t quite begrudge the time we spend in it in these winter months.

The seasonal darkness fosters a communal spirit, as we abandon gardens and evenings at the river in exchange for time spent with friends and family, gathered around meals or playing games. The darkness envelops and comforts us, shrinking the scope of our focus to the things that matter most to us. In the darkness we feel less exposed, and we are often more creative, more connected to our emotions, and more intimate with others than we are in the light.

The poet Wendell Berry writes that the dark “blooms and sings,” and once we surrender to it, we find wonder in so much of what the darkness reveals to us.

The magical Methow Valley dark skies, for example — the winter constellations revealed to us in stark beauty against the backdrop of night. Spotting Orion early one morning in late fall always feels like welcoming an old friend, even though it’s the pal who ushers in the dark and cold.

The darkness gives center stage to the brilliant winter moon, when even a tiny sliver illuminates the glittering blankets of snow. As the human world draws inward to the sanctuary of our homes, the natural world comes alive. If we step outside for a few minutes, pause to let our eyes adjust and our senses heighten, we find that the darkness embraces us, not something to be endured, but instead to be savored.

PREVIOUSLY, IN WINTHROP

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