Here in the Loon Lake valley the sun manages to get up over the mountains to the south around 9:30 in the morning in mid December and disappears again around 3:30 in the afternoon. On snowy days like today the low clouds hide the mountain and there isn’t even a shadow of the sun. Fortunately we tend to get more sunny days in winter than cloudy ones.
No city lights to counter for the darkness means that we are very aware of the short hours of daylight. Northerners all around Earth experience this every year, often with complaints and a desire to fly away to a sunnier place. Too often folks tend to go into partial hibernation, sleeping long and watching a lot of TV.
I find there is a sort of magic in the winter twilight and I enjoy putting out lanterns with candles in the snowy garden and enjoy the shadows and flickering lights. I lived for many years in Denmark, even further north than here – at just below N56 latitude – and I came to understand clearly why in the Danish language candles are called “living lights” while regular lamp light is just called light.
The popularity of candles in the winter means that it is possible to buy very good quality candles in Scandinavia that do not smoke and which burn very clean with no drips. Children have learned to handle candles and fire with care. In most houses in Denmark, including mine, the young children were the ones who lit the candles on the table at dinner and then put them out when we left the table after dinner.
At this time of the year Denmark and many other northern countries have traditions celebrating light, the winter solstice and the return of the sun. I will always remember how deeply moved I was the first time I experienced the Danish celebration of “Lucia Day” which is Dec 13.
I was attending a Christmas concert, seated in a large hall listening to a choir, when the lights were all put out and we sat there in the dark. I had no idea what was coming next. Out of the dark at the back of the room came a young child’s clear voice, a cappella, singing “Santa Lucia”, then in came a choir of young children all dressed in white gowns, led by this young girl with a crown of candles on her head. The children walked single file around the room, each carrying a lighted taper held in clasped hands in front of them. This was the only light in the room. Singing and walking slowly while holding a lighted candle takes a bit of practice to make sure the candle doesn’t go out and these children had practiced for hours. The lead singer, known as the “Lucia girl”, has to practice even more to keep the crown of lighted candles on her head while she walked. The children walked in procession very slowly – “bringing back the light”.
The next song to be sung while the room was still lit only by the candles was a Danish hymn to the earth about the cycles of the seasons and generations; altogether it is a lovely ceremony and one that fits well into very modern lives. We can all take reassurance from the realization that from Dec. 21 on the light of the day is once again on the increase.
Along Loon Lake Road the upper valley is all dressed out for winter with snow covered trees just like on the Christmas cards people used to mail to each other. The absence of street lights turns a drive along the road in the darkness into a brilliant light and dark show where residents have brightened up their yards with seasonal light displays, some on which are really very attractive. My thanks to all those who have put out lights at this time of the year – it makes the drive quite awesome.
Christmas time is party time, and one of the topics of discussion always is “when will the lake freeze over?” Understandably everyone wants to have fun on the ice during the holiday season. In the opinion of some it is late if it isn’t frozen by Christmas, however looking at records kept over the last 20 year the last week of December or the first in January is when it has happened most frequently. Freeze up has happened as early as the first week of December and at times people have had to wait to walk on the lake until the first week in February. As one person said the other day – one thing is for sure – it is never the same from one year to the next.
With the arrival of the snow, work in the garden has been reduced to shoveling snow onto the planting beds under trees. Now there is more time to look around at shapes and spaces in the garden to plan for future changes and improvements. In the six months when there is not much growth in the garden, the shapes of trees and shrubs as well as hard landscape elements are just as important as flowers are in the summer. Now there is also time to watch the antics of the birds around the feeders. I am pleased to have seen the curious little brown creeper going its way up and down the sides of the old furrowed fir trunks, perhaps looking for seed bits stuffed in by the nuthatches. It is nice to have them back as I didn’t see any at all last winter.
Happy New Year everyone.