Pacific Northwest winters leave you no doubt as to the need for a solstice, a festival of light. The days are disturbingly short here for an Arizona native, sun mostly gone at 4:30 pm this time of year. Still a month to go before it turns around, before the days begin to lengthen. I suppose it is a matter of perspective. I remember a friend’s mother who came down from Alaska for the winter, for the sunshine, the grandchildren, and the longer days. Her desire to migrate south for the winter to balmy bright Oregon made me laugh.
Mostly when I look out the window here in November, I see grey, and more grey, and soppy trees, a few leaves clinging to branches in orange or red, but now mostly brown. I force myself outside; I don’t like getting wet. I own rain pants. Incandescent lights flood all the houses. Most of my psychologically minded friends have a “full spectrum” desk lamp, to mimic the sunrise we can’t see, and to tell us to get the heck out of bed. Everyone is on high doses of Vitamin D. You can hire people to put up thousands of outdoor Christmas lights on your overbig suburban home.
I remember the frost on the continuously green lawns in Arizona, our weak version of snow. You could erase the frost by walking on it, trodding around in ridiculously warm boots to make a traceable path. You could even slide a few steps, or try to scrape it together to make a feeble ball. How I wished for snow! ..thinking of the one picture, some cacti with white coating, taken when I was very small, evidence that snow actually fell just a bit on one Christmas day. Maybe this year! Inevitably though, there was no snow, only the sun sparkling off the frost until it got too warm.
There was light, though, and plenty of it, and playing outside as much as you wanted, even in December. And a strange plastic white Christmas tree, with gold and red decorations, and there were lights on the tree, too, lights that drove my father crazy because those lights needed to work, EVERY SINGLE ONE, or none of them would. I remember the obsessive compulsive search for the offending burnt out bulb, and the victory when it was discovered and ruthlessly replaced, and I think my father had a scotch to reward himself when the tree finally lit up.
Portland is vastly different from Arizona in this respect: no one would have a fake tree, or very few people. Pine trees grow like weeds, sometimes in backyards. Christmas trees have to be dried in garages before they’re brought in, and once installed, watered relentlessly in their stands. Moss can take over the grass lawns, water pours from the skies, down the streets, off the roofs. We’re so wet we don’t carry umbrellas; maybe it’s another layer between our eyes and the hidden light of the sun, and we can’t afford more shade. A few days of sun, of unobscured natural light, is all we can hope for in late November and December.
I sit here and contemplate a walk outside, with my full spectrum lamp beside me, the kitchen lights reflected in the window, the surrounding rooms black in contrast. It’s not even 2pm. I’ll put on my raincoat, and maybe my rain pants, pull up my hood, and take myself outside. I’ll unplug the orange lights from Halloween and look in the garage for the twinkly red ones.
Light is both a wave and a particle, I’m sure you’ll remember. I’ve had my share of both, lived in unremitting waves of light, in a place where light could power all the houses and the cars, where light transformed to heat could burn the back of your thighs on vinyl car seats, where sometimes you’d wish for night to come and cool you off, so that you could finally open a window. I’ve also lived very particular light, so precise and time limited that a glimpse of it would provide hope for the coming week even if you only saw the sun for four minutes on Monday at 9:47 am.
Given I’m in very particular light right now, I’ll try to imagine the blue sky of the desert, and look forward to the Winter Solstice and the tilt back towards the sun.