Once again, what I think of as the dark days of winter — aka, the days between the time change in November and the winter solstice — have flown by, over before I even had much time to wallow in them.
The darkness is never as oppressive in reality as it threatens to be when we are still in that sweet spot of October’s golden twilight evenings and rosy dawns. True, it’s dark well into the morning, and any event that starts after 6 p.m. feels like it takes place in the middle of the night, but still, I find that if just embrace the shadows (albeit with a little bit of half-hearted grumbling) the weeks of long nights offer a different perspective. The Milky Way pulses across the blackness, the stars glitter above, the winter constellations pop — hello, Orion! Hello, The Pleiades! — and if you’re lucky, you witness the rhythmic magic of aurora borealis.
This period of extra darkness gives us an excuse, should we want one, to burrow in a little bit. To change into pajamas right after work and stay in them for 12 hours. To stockpile a tower of books beside the bed. To make soups that last for days.
We cluster candles on windowsills and stretch a string of fairy lights in every nook that needs one. We build bonfires and watch sparks spiral skyward. For want of natural light, we create our own ways to cast a glow.
I know that many people recognize the winter solstice with rituals involving yule wreaths, candles, polar plunges, or other traditions to welcome the period ahead of increasing daylight, minute by minute. I haven’t had a consistent routine, but I nearly always do something, even if it’s just for a moment: listen to the owls calling before dawn, walk outside before bed to locate the North Star, contemplate the outlines of the geographical references of my landscape at the time — an ocotillo’s spiky arms in the Rio Grande; Patterson Mountain; beech leaves rustling, still on trees, in an eastern hardwood forest.
Of course, it’s only easy to say that the dark days have flown by now, with the dwindling daylight in the rear-view mirror for a while, and the winter solstice just a day or two away. Even though I know by now that these weeks pass in a blur of winter preparation and holiday anticipation, I allow myself to dread the long nights anew each year. That way the solstice comes as a relief, an answer to a craving. If we long for the light, we feel its reappearance more acutely. The hungrier we are for it, the better it tastes.