Monday, January 31, 2011

The lengthening days of late January

The lengthening minutes of daylight at this time of year seem like a small miracle, year after year.

Just as in mid-November I’m surprised anew every year at how early and how dark-gray the gathering dusk is, each year by late January I’m surprised to see a white-gold glow stay in the late-afternoon sky until five o’clock or later.

Why these things still surprise me is hard to say. Not only have I seen four decades of seasons; I’ve seen many of them from the same location. Yet still, the fact that the sky stays light later and later as January reaches toward February still feels like a daily blessing, a small touch of grace to end the afternoon.

Maybe it’s partly that a year like this with so much snow increases the brightness somewhat by reflecting it back. November tends to feel so dark not only because of the early sunsets but also because most years, including this past one, the predominant colors of November are gray and brown, with the ground turning dull in color, the leaves falling off the trees, and no snow yet. These past few weeks, not only has the light lasted longer but there are piles and piles of snow gleaming it back into the atmosphere.

At the church I used to attend in Framingham, the Womenspirit group celebrated a Winter Solstice reenactment every year, narrating the Wiccan legend of how the stag, representing light, must re-conquer the wolf, representing darkness, on the Winter Solstice to ensure that brightness will again prevail with the oncoming spring. The idea that early civilizations might not have been sure that the shortening days would eventually reverse course is fascinating to me, whether or not there’s any accuracy in it. I love the idea that you don’t really truly know, until you see the lengthening daylight of late January, whether summer will return or whether the days will just grow increasingly shorter and darker.

We’re definitely still in the midst of winter. The snowbanks are four feet high alongside our driveway, and more snow is forecast for midweek. It’s still only January – albeit the last day of January – and there’s little question, groundhogs notwithstanding, that we have plenty of time left to immerse ourselves in winter.

But at five o’clock I can’t help noticing that the sky is still bright. The stag has defeated the wolf yet again. Spring, then summer, will return.

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