Ways of Seeing: Handling short days, long nights
When late October arrives, lots of people are planning this year’s Halloween costumes, buying candy for trick-or-treaters, or otherwise filling their days with happy anticipation of a sugar-filled holiday. Not me. I am thinking about the time.
Every year when Daylight Savings Time ends, I have to think hard about whether time will fall backward or forward. I remember once many years ago, I changed all my clocks one hour ahead, and it was hours before I realized my error. These days, electronic devices adjust themselves, so I just wait for them to tell me what time it is. All that really concerns me is that this time of year the days are pitch black at 4 p.m. and the nights linger.
The lack of light makes me feel as though I live a mole-like existence: underground, and nearly blind. Unlike a mole, I don’t have the necessary physiology to comfortably make my way from activity to activity. I go around feeling as though I am drifting underwater with my eyes closed. This year, instead of anticipating — with dread — the long passage from now until winter solstice when the days slowly began to lengthen, I made a pact with myself: Make friends with the shorter days and longer nights.
It’s not easy. At the same time as I welcome the crisp autumn air and its accompanying sharp light, I anticipate the bleakness that will come. As October begins to wind down, the weather becomes overcast. The brilliant golds, reds, and yellows that make Vermont so beautiful become shadowed by clouds that block the sun. Inevitably, a wind-whipped rainstorm will toss the leaves to the ground.
My house is bordered by tall deciduous trees. As I look out my dining room window, I see a horizon of white through tree trunks. A spritz of sun struggles past a massive body of clouds before another mass moves to block its light.
Despite the golden glow of the remaining leaves, the trees seem starker because the filtered light paints their trunks charcoal gray. There are piles of fallen branches. Crows caw. The wind sounds like ocean waves as it moves through the trees. For some that is soothing. Not for me.
Still, I think it is wise to make friends with the short days and long nights, rather than just endure them. I could dwell on the feeling of confinement that the loss of light brings or I could focus on the things I have control over. I am either a victim or someone who consciously, mindfully, and willingly embraces the cycle of seasons.
One night, I stepped outside just to feel the dark and quiet night. In the distance, a neighbor’s porch light tried to pierce the blackness but only succeeded in making it more powerful than if there was no light at all. The night felt like a cozy blanket.
One afternoon, I got up from my computer and stood in the rain that was falling on the deck, soft, persistent. The leaves that were blown into piles earlier were now flattened by water reflecting the afternoon light. The air smelled fresh and clean.
It is the season when dusk will descend at 3 p.m. and, by 5 p.m., blackness will make itself comfortable for hours and hours. There is no point in resisting the inevitable, I decide. Listening to the wind blow through the trees, I think of the hours ahead. There is plenty of evening remaining, time to read, to write, cook and eat, talk with friends and family, in the comfort of home.
Ruth Farmer is a published essayist and poet. She directs the Goddard Graduate Institute in Plainfield, and is sole owner of Farmer Writing and Editing (ruthfarmer.com).
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