Today is December 4, 2018. That means two things to me: first, it’s my mom’s birthday (most amazing mother ever!) and secondly, that deep winter is fast approaching. I live just north of the 56th Parallel, so when I say “deep winter” I mean it. It will be cold. The mountains and valleys will be closed to all but the most fearless of humanity. Animals will hibernate. People will turn indoors.
And the days will get shorter, and darker.
In fact, our shortest day will start with sunrise at 9:34 am and end with sunset at 4:37 pm, for a total of 6 hours and 53 minutes - almost 75% of a 24 hour period without sunshine.
I love it.
Sara and I were walking last night. It was about 9 pm, and we found ourselves at a lookout point over the city of Fort St. John. Of course it was dark and cold. The city lights twinkled weakly under an exceptionally heavy fog, like a winter blanket of down. We were bundled up, gloves, scarves. I had my Eddie Bauer jacket on. Takoda, our lassie-dog, has thickened out with half-again his body weight in winter fur.
Suddenly this idea blossoms in my mind and it's a vision of summer, being in the high mountains, valleys carpeted in wild flowers. For a brief moment it's like I can actually smell the scent of a poplar forest in full bloom and gentle breezes warmed by a lazy summer sun. I can almost feel the weight of gumbo mud, sticking to my boots from the trail as winter releases its hold.
And oddly, in that moment, I realize I absolutely love these dark winter nights.
Here's why: the darkness creates in me an electrifying anticipation of the light, a deep longing for the warm summer, like the starving man craves food.
“Gotta have opposites, light and dark and dark and light, in painting. It’s like in life.” Bob Ross, the eclectic-hacker-painter said that, and went on to describe that you don’t appreciate the light unless there’s darkness, and vice versa. Darkness is nothing without contrasting light, and light has no meaning or definition without darkness. It’s a provocative idea that has the ring of truth. Life to the fullest expression needs darker tones and lighter tones, good times and difficult times, wins and losses, summers and winters, day and night. And the combination of both is what gives it such rich meaning and breath-taking beauty.
In that moment on "toboggan hill" overlooking our city, I realized that life in the North wouldn't be the same without the long dark of winter, and the surreal sense of expectation and hopefulness grounded in the reality that things will change and the present season will not last forever. In fact, on December 21, at precisely 3:22 pm, the Peace Country will start the process of walking into one of the most beautiful summers on the planet, where the sun will rise with a glory unrivalled at 4:14am, and after almost 18 hours of daylight, will barely dip under the horizon around 11pm. From where I sit now, there will be 11 extra hours of daylight and sunshine.
I'm beaming a big smile as I think of that. It's an amazing thing.
As we stood there I said, “Sara, I love this time of year, the short days, the cold nights.” She asks, “Me too! But why do you say that?!” “Well, I definitely love that the long evenings create the most amazing moments - warm fire, puzzle table, hot drinks in hand, and the warm companionship of friends and family. That alone makes the cost of every -30 winter day totally worth it. But what about how these winter nights build an anticipation in us for the summer?” I told her that I think we get twice as much out of our four months of summer as those who get summer all year - that we appreciate the summer all the more and savour every moment of it - because of the long dark of winter. Note: it's a fact that the long days of summer also give us a special, deep appreciation for the deep hibernation of winter.
She readily agreed with me, and quietly murmured, "Yeah, darkness IS beautiful."