“I’m ready for some cool weather!” I exclaimed to someone just last week. Now that it’s here, I can tell you I lied — I’m not ready, there’s a thousand things to do before it gets really cold, and suddenly all my long pants seem to have shrunk around the waist.
It’s time for cooler weather, of course, upper level high- and low-pressure systems aside. A month ago, at the autumnal equinox, we entered the darker half of the year. Now we are in the darkest 4 months, Oct. 21 through Feb. 21 more or less. The sun is noticeably spending less time each day heating up the horizontal surfaces we live on and under. The angle of the sun is declining, no longer burning down from straight overhead. The number of solar calories received by the soil surface is sharply reduced each day until around mid-December, when the whole process seems to come to a screeching halt. It’s easy then to imagine that we’re never going to see the sun again.
That we have holidays starting around now seems like a remarkable stroke of genius by humankind. As we suddenly notice that sunset is occurring right around the time we need to fix dinner, the first thing we do is send (or take) the kids out into the dark dressed as wicked witches and winsome princesses, ghouls, pirates and politicians. “Here’s how we deal with the dark,” we’re telling them: “go out into it, take back the night.”
To me that’s the real beauty of trick-or-treating — not the candy, not even the costumes, but the permission and the encouragement to be outside, to be part of the community even though incognito, reminding ourselves that no matter what kind of costume we’re wearing, we belong to each other. That one-night experience helps us remember each other during the indoor season. We may close our curtains and lock our doors earlier each evening, but we keep an ear tuned to what’s going on outside, just in case we’re needed.
By Thanksgiving, we’ve entered the two darkest months. Here in the south half of the state, the yellow leaves still on the trees capture the light and dance in the wind, celebrating the life of months past. And we celebrate the food we’ve harvested or been given to carry us over the hibernating months. We celebrate the truth of abundance and the beauty of gratitude. I think it’s a remarkable holiday, in perfect harmony with our position relative to the sun and giving us strength of character as well as body.
And then, only days after the winter solstice, when the nights have just barely begun to shorten, we celebrate a birth. It’s a portentous birth to an unwed mother in a barn with other members of the peaceable kingdom, a mother who has dreamed human equality could be the result. “Land’s wealth divided, no terror, no war; all people satisfied, hungry land no more.” That’s the heart of Mary’s vision, as my Methodist prophet friend wrote in his agrarian Christmas carol, “Song for the Wise Ones.” (Listen at www.johnpitney.org on his album “Walk Lightly on the Earth.”) I think she intercepted God’s dream then, or received it.
New Year’s is when we put an exclamation point on surviving the darkest days, as well as try to put the experiences of the holidays into some perspective on our lives in the year ahead. We call up some hoped-for reforms, perhaps to instill hope for the future. And the days lengthen slowly, the buds start to show on the branches, new shoots produce faith in spring, and the prospect arrives that we will eat again in the coming year.
These are some of the benefits I see from low light season. Take heart, friends, and take back the night next week!
Trudy Wischemann’s favorite Halloween costume is a white cotton choir robe she found in a Dinuba thrift store decades ago, which she wears with a bent-up halo. You can send her your candy-giving experiences c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.