The Dark of December

We are approaching Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. It falls on December 21st, and when it finally arrives, I always feel like I’m coming up for air for the first time in months. It’s as if I’ve been walking through J.R.R. Tolkein’s Mirkwood in The Hobbit, and just as I am about to give up hope, I see light in the distance. I’m halfway there. I can do this.

If I can survive the fact that, here in the Pacific Northwest, the sun that day won’t come up until 7:54 am and will be back down at 4:20 pm, I can survive anything. I view that as a triumph.

And after that day, I have slightly longer days to look forward to. More room to breathe. Less time in front of my SAD light. Less time to feel sad. More hope.

I definitely feel an emotional difference with the seasons. It’s hard to take, being plunged into ever-increasing gloom, and having no real control over it. We are all enslaved by the sun, and its indifference and neglect in winter is a bit of a challenge. It’s hard not to take it personally.

But Spring is coming. Glorious, glorious spring! Enduring the dark winter makes me appreciate the rest of the year all the more.

I’ll leave you with this poem. It’s a life raft in the dark. All we have to do is hold on. Light will soon return.

I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
A magical thing
And sweet to remember.

“We are nearer to Spring
Than we were in September,”
I heard a bird sing
In the dark of December.
– Oliver Hereford

On a Dark Trail

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Leavenworth Revisited

It seems as though every state has an historic and/or heavily themed, touristy albeit delightful little town. St. Augustine, Florida. Helen, Georgia. Solvang, California. Williamsburg, Virginia. Leavenworth, Washington. I love visiting these places, but only infrequently. Too often, and it starts to feel like overindulging at a buffet. It seems like a great idea, until you do it.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Leavenworth, Washington for the second time. I wrote about my first visit, and reading back I can tell how lonely I was that time around. This time I got to go with my husband. It’s amazing how the tenor of a trip changes with its participants. I had fun in 2015, without a doubt. But I really loved it this time.

The whole Bavarian-themed town was decked out for Christmas, and I must say, they do a phenomenal job of it. I truly felt as though I was walking in a winter wonderland. And of course, there are dozens of shops that are ready and willing to prey upon one’s holiday spirit.

We spent a lot of time searching for the ideal ornament to commemorate our first Christmas together. (I’ve written about this tradition of mine before.) After about 8 stores, we finally found the perfect one: A blown glass heart made from the ash of Mount St. Helens. We both have certainly risen from figurative ashes, and we’re all about the love these days. Just right.

We also bought a copper leaf, as we enjoy the colored leaves of autumn. That will have pride of place against our dark purple wall in the living room. Autumn all year round. (The shop that makes these had entire wreaths of them, too, and they were tempting, but we really are trying not to accumulate too much stuff.)

It was fun exploring all the tiny little shops. It was like Diagon Alley without the wizardry. (I have to say, though, I could never work in one of these places. They probably listen to Christmas music for three months at a stretch. That would drive me insane.)

The absolute highlight of the visit was our dinner at the Watershed Café. That deserved a post all its own, so I wrote about it a few days ago. So good. So very, very good.

After that, we wandered around the town square, taking in the holiday lights. What color! And mind you, this was before their official Christmas Tree Lighting. I can’t imagine how they could possibly top what they already have done.

That night we stayed in the Blackbird Lodge. Like the rest of downtown, it is faithful to the Bavarian theme, but it’s not over the top. It’s very tasteful and cozy. We even had a lovely little fireplace in our room. And the views were spectacular. I absolutely loved the place. (My only complaint would be their complimentary breakfast. It was make it yourself waffles and coffee. That’s it. That’s all. No OJ. No milk. No cereal. No bagels. Nothing. And there was only one waffle iron, and since each waffle takes 2 ½ minutes, quite the line was formed. Come on, guys, you can do better than that.)

The next morning we walked in the park along the river. The mountain views are spectacular. It reminded me of my first trip there. Then, I was walking my dogs and feeling a bit sorry for myself. This time, I was holding the hand of the best human being I know, and realizing just how lucky I am. Quite the upgrade, indeed.

Without further ado, here are some photos from our trip.

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Losing Sunlight

At this time of year in Seattle, the sun sets around 4:30 pm. I never thought I’d experience that. In Florida, there’s only two hours difference in the day length from summer to winter. So this radical change feels really, really weird to me.

I never realized how much sunlight affects me on so many levels. I seem to go into a low energy mode the minute darkness sets in. I’m less productive, less upbeat. The sky seems closer to the ground somehow. The air feels more dense and harder to pass through. Everything takes more strength.

I also feel as though I’m running late all the time. Usually I have my daily blog written each day before dark. Now… not so much. Even though I haven’t changed my routine, this feeling makes me anxious.

If I could figure out how the bills would get paid, I swear I’d hibernate like a bear from November through February. Burrow into a mound of blankets and just sleep. If it weren’t for my SAD light, I’d probably cease to function entirely.

But then I’d miss cuddling in front of the fire, and decorating the Christmas tree, and wearing fuzzy boots and diving into a nice hot bowl of Pho. So I guess I’ll just have to make the effort. Life does go on, and the sun is shining somewhere, after all.

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Seasonal Transitions

I love the transition between summer and autumn. It’s my favorite time of year. A respite from the heat, but not yet miserably cold. A sense of enjoying the sun as the days perceptibly shorten. A slight frisson because there’s an ancestral fear of not surviving the winter. An appreciation of abundance while it lasts. A feeling of being on the brink of an adventure.

This started me thinking of other seasonal transitions.

Autumn to winter is a time to hunker down, muddle through, and try to stay warm. It’s also when you take a deep breath before diving headlong into the exhausting holiday season. It’s a time of conserving your resources. The horizons seem to shrink. My instinct is always to stay closer to home.

Winter to spring! Excitement! Birth! Beginnings! Flowers! Pent up energy just bursting to come out! The end to hibernation! The overuse of exclamation points!!!!!

Spring to summer, for me, is a little fraught. I love the lengthening days. I adore the vacations. It’s nice to have less bulky laundry to do. It feels good to be outside, enjoying all that nature has to offer. But it’s also freakin’ hot. And you have to mow. I don’t do hot and I’m a resentful mower.

Regardless, I am so grateful to be living in a climate of seasons again. You don’t really get spring or autumn in Florida, and I felt their absence keenly. I enjoy marking the passage of time. I love the variety, the anticipation, the change.

Life, man. Nature. It’s incredible.


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Nature’s Personality

When I lived in Florida, I avoided nature at all costs. For me it was a place of spiders and snakes and mosquitoes and lightning strikes and fire ants and tornadoes and floods and, increasingly, forest fires. You couldn’t even jump into a pile of leaves for the scorpions. (How does one get through childhood without jumping into at least one leaf pile?)

Status quo was heat and humidity and sweat and sunburns. Mostly, I hid indoors, and went into full-blown panic if my air conditioning broke down. In fact, life was hopping from one air-conditioned oasis to the next. All my windows were painted shut. Having that contentious relationship with the great outdoors, I kind of had the mindset that I was surviving in spite of, rather than because of, nature.

It’s amazing how quickly my attitude changed when I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Here, I don’t even own an air conditioner. During the warmer months, my windows practically stay open. I have a new-found love for fresh air. During those same months, I have dinner on my back porch every evening. I’ve yet to encounter a mosquito, let alone anything else that might bite me. I don’t even own any bug spray.

Here, I get outdoors every chance I get. I’m starting to look at the rainy, grey winter months (which I confess I’ll never get used to), as the penance I have to pay for the exquisite gifts of spring, summer, and fall. This is the first time I’ve experienced seasons in 40 years. They’re magical.

Perhaps nature is more than one entity. I like its personality much better here than I did in Florida. Here, we’re friends, not enemies. And I didn’t realize how much my life lacked for not having that friendship until it finally came along.


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The Sky is Falling

I’ve been feeling a bit claustrophobic of late. Due to all the wildfires in the Pacific Northwest, I went about a week without seeing the sky. The sun and the moon both looked blood red from the pollution, and the smoke seemed to be pressing down upon us. I lost my mountain views at work, and in the little valley where I live, it seemed like a grey pot lid was sitting on the hills, closing us off from the rest of the universe.

Every day I’d come out to find my car coated in a blanket of ash. And at work, when I’d do my sweaty maintenance and then walk through these cinder showers, I’d wind up looking like a coal miner. Nothing quite like being coated with gunk to make your work day feel like it’s going that much slower.

I hate it when my horizons shrink. It’s bad enough that winter is approaching, which here in the Seattle area means cloudy skies for months on end. (Time to break out my SAD light in order to avoid a deep, dark depression.) I’m starting to look at it as the price I have to pay for amazing springs and summers.

But as global warming advances, I suspect I can look forward to a lot more smoky skies in the summer, and either killing droughts or torrential downpours. I’m not sure if I can adapt to this new world. I worry for my grandnephews, who will have no memory of how things used to be. I worry for my friends in Florida, who will be chewed up and spit out by one hurricane after another until the whole state disappears.

This does not feel like the planet I was born on. And we’ve brought it on ourselves. Something has got to give.

The moon feels like it’s getting closer every day.

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O’Dark Thirty

I’ve been in Seattle for two years now, and I’d like to think I’m adapting well. But as Autumn establishes itself, I start to feel as if I’m in a foreign country. I suspect that will always be the case.

Not since I lived in the Netherlands have I experienced such extreme changes in daylight from one season to the next. Here in the summer, you get about 16 hours of daylight, and in the winter you get about 8 ½ hours. Back in Florida there was only a 4 hour sunlight difference from summer to winter, and for the most part it remained miserably hot, so you tried to avoid the sun anyway.

I am constantly disconcerted by the winters here, when it’s pitch black by 5 p.m. To me, darkness means it’s later in the evening.  So why am I not tired? “Oh… it’s not even dinner time yet.”

And in the summer, I constantly think I’ve overslept when I hear the birds chirping and see bright light at 5 a.m. Whose brilliant idea was that? What’s wrong with you people???

Too, it feels like I’m working a completely different schedule when I come to and/or leave work in the dark when this was not the case a few short weeks ago.

The overall vibe here is very different from season to season. In the winter, people seem to get subdued. There’s a lot more silence and a lot less socializing. People seem to hibernate. The energy in this city is a lot lower at this time of year.

I have to admit, though, it makes me much more aware of the passage of time. It also makes me more appreciative of the sunlight when I actually see it, and the flowers that bloom and the vegetables that grow. I used to take those things for granted. Never again.

And Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. That crisp crackle in the air gives me a burst of energy that seems to elude the average Seattleite. I love the colors that nature puts forth, like the last hurrah before a colorless winter.

Still, just when I think I’ve gotten used to this place, another month rolls around, with a different feel, and it’s like I’m back to square one. I can well imagine what it would be like to live in Alaska, with its days of darkness. I can imagine it, but I sure wouldn’t want to live through it. Everything is relative.


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