- We (should have) learned in fifth grade that around December 21 is winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. Not only does the earth radiate heat away for most of the 24 hours, but the warming rays of the sun are slanted and not as effective as at other times. Intuition tells us this would be the coldest day of the year as well. Not true. Days remain shorter than nights until around March 21 _ this part of the Earth continues to lose heat. So intuition would think that maybe spring equinox is the coldest.
- Temperatures actually trail the solar path by a little over month, so coldest days are at end January and early February. And a lot depends on general cloud overcast, snow cover, jet stream path, what fronts the Canadians hurl at us, and strange terms like “polar vortex” that meteorologists keep inventing.
- Like so much of science, fifth grade conceptions are often generally right but specifically wrong. I’m very glad, because such chaotic unpredictability is what makes our real world so marvelous and constantly surprising.
- Living close to nature has become romanticized. Genealogy has some people dreaming of life as a Native American, or a Celt, or in the wild Teutonic tribes. The ancient foods, practices, religions, rituals, spirits made life more meaningful than in these degenerate times. Most of those imaginings _ for good reason _ focus on happy summer days, the freshness of spring, the tang of crisp autumn.
- In reality, as winter closed in at northern latitudes Nature became harsh, painful, and raw terror. Famine and freezing were constant concerns. Nights passed with nothing to break 16 or more hours of darkness. The tales related by 17th century French fur traders concerning how Neolithic peoples of the American west starved, suffered, and often died in unbelievable misery are astounding.
- All in all, I vote in favor of these degenerate times.
- Rage, rage against the dying of the light …
- But sometimes teasingly brilliant noontimes on frigid days are even more cruel.
- I think the quality of sunlight is a little different around winter solstice. The lower sun is naturally redder, just as it is at sunset. Frequently present ice crystals in the upper air scatter the light more evenly. There are peculiar effects from angles and reflections on the clouds, with orange patches even in the middle of the day through breaks in dark clouds.
- On the other hand, I am never quite sure how much of that is real. Just as I easily learn to make any perceptions normal, I can make any perceptions fit my logic or mood. If I believe light is altered, I will probably see it as being so. Doesn’t much matter, as long as I enjoy what I am looking at and try to be conscious of its beauty.
- Winter solstice has been stripped of its terror, and it is subsumed into general worldwide celebrations of a common end of year. There is no reason to feel bad about that, it’s now just another part of the natural calendar. Those who regret the passing of ancient rites and rituals may mourn its decline, but anyone with sense knows the modern world _ slick and smooth and always the same _ is far preferable to the bipolar roller coaster of feast and famine.
- Traditions are at least maintained in the display of lights everywhere fighting back against the early fall of night. There is something hauntingly pathetically beautiful in a tree lit against dark snow by dinnertime. It can be seen as a statement against cynicism, depression, and the oncoming inevitable. In fact, it is surely more just a continuation of what has always been done, which in itself is a kind of miracle.
Hibernation sets in suddenly this solstice.
Now fears are huge and worse, but at least far away.