Once winter is on a roll, deep into December, turning the corner to the new year, I become accustomed to life in the dark. Leaving for work at 6:30, it’s dark. Arriving home at 6:30, it’s dark. Sure, there’s sunlight during the workday, but the only time I can see the roof, the lawns, the runways and the barn is on the weekend.
I’m keenly aware in the fall, beginning late in July, really, of the shortening of days. On the walk with Chuy, we can see, viewing from the same point atop Nishan’s Hill, the sun gets a little more ahead of us day by day. I watch intently as the sun sets, trying to squeeze a couple extra views in before the red ball drops below the horizon.
Then—darkness falls. The depth of winter reminds me of the dark, heatless places in our solar system. The dark side of the moon must be just like this. Well below freezing and constantly night. Then again, there’s no wind on the moon, so these icy blasts that shake me like a willow would not exist there. By imagining the cold, dark expanses of the cosmos, I can feel fortunate that we reign over the elements with our modern human conventions. Electric lights, heat, fiberglass insulation, pellet stoves, TV.
One morning, seems like before I know it, there’s this huge nuclear fireball burning, sitting on the horizon as I drive to work. Yesterday that space was filled with snow-beleaguered pines and the morning star. Today, a big orange-red flame blinds me as I navigate the highway. This first turn, the first time I can see the sunrise at that place and time in the morning, is most exciting. Sure, it’s the same as last year, and will be the same as next year and probably roughly the next 4 billion years or so (give or take).
Maybe most folks don’t get as excited about this as I do. For me, it’s like watching the swallows return to Capistrano. Once a year, like your birthday. An event.
It’s strange to think that January is Aphelion, the point in the Earth’s orbit when we’re closest to the sun. Perihelion, our farthest distance from the sun in our annual orbit, occurs around the first week of July. Odd to think we’re now a couple of million miles closer to the sun than we are in the summer!
In these, our bitter days of winter,
As bare trees stand, their feet cold in the snow,
And above our heads icy North winds blow,
And from my eaves hang frozen crystal splinters,
Let us then retire to our rooms,
Where we’ll sip hot tea and clasp our hands,
And know the warmth of love still stands,
As overhead the winter rage looms.
No embers of wood, nor burning coal,
As fire radiates its heat,
Upon our faces, upon our feet,
Can, as the heart, warm the soul.
There’s something to this cosmos-watching that brings me comfort. Gives me my sense of place in the universe. Truly seeing the universe is not easy.
A starfield on a crystal clear January night. A moon behind ice-crystal clouds.
Some ice, some dark, some cold, some sun, all help aid the imagination.
Oh yeah, and a ride home in the light.
Be at peace,