Solstice: It’s About LightAs December moves towards the shortest day, we all panic a little. It’s not the present-wrapping still to do, the festive mince pies to bake, the cards to write: though those and other events on the to-do list seem endless and we’ll never get it done.
We will. That’s the point: we’ll get there.
But there is something else. Somewhere deep in the collective unconscious (thank you Carl Jung) there is an unfounded fear that when the shortest day arrives, the sun will not only stand still but may never rise again. That may sound crazy to someone who doesn’t look up at the sky much; who sees ‘light’ as something akin to the strange offerings on Photobucket under that search item: a neon tube.
But there are others among us, myself included, who look to the skies in these fast diminishing days and wonder if the light will return. I miss it so. In the so-called temperate zone, we lose the light at a rate of roughly four minutes per day until December 21st, when the sun ‘appears’ to stand still. And then it turns round and light increases at the same rate until equinox. I blogged last week about how the light-deprived Scots celebrate solstice in Burghead at the latitude of Alaska. No Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for them
The Norwegians, too, know all about that latitude: over half their huge country lies north of the 57º parallel. In Murmansk, on the White Sea, they keep the street lights on from October until April. They’re not just street lights either, they are specially formulated UV, designed to trigger serotonin in the SAD population and offer some hope to a city starved of sun for five months of the year.
Yes, serotonin is the hormone secreted by the human brain in the process of joy. It’s what we as a species need to keep going. Joy and light. And at this season when all the shops are declaring it is time to be ‘merry’, joy may be hard to find, unless we consciously engender it.
So it may be relevant to fostering a little joy that I give you a small ditty which appeared in today’s Daily Mail and one which the people of Norway are still pondering over.
I won’t add the comments from the unbelievers (failed Russian spacecraft, holographic searchlight); the positive view is that it is – in the middle of Arctic winter – a light in the sky. Not exactly aurora borealis, but something electromagnetic and atmospherically-unusual. A spiral of light in the sky. There’s hope.
Aurora, now. That’s another delight we may witness at our latitude if we’re lucky, at this dark time of year. It might even be seen as a magical mechanism devised by solar wind and earth’s magnetosphere to whisper awe into our unresponsive consciousness.
But to stand on a hill on a starlit night, hot water bottle wrapped round kidney region, three scarves and wool hat in place, furry boots and six layers of woolly jumpers over frail human body, and watch as the firmament wheels for an hour in cathedrals of light, is something not to be missed.
For that I will go through another dark winter in this wild northern latitude.
On January 12 last year the population of Siguida, Latvia experienced the light equivalent of an ice storm: over the city’s streets hovered a cloud of light which then descended into pillars. Scientists attributed the columns of light which hung suspended in air for more than five minutes to frozen crystals of water or minute particles of ice. But to a child it must have looked like a winter fairy’s magic wand had waved.
There will always be the view of the jaded reporter, the overworked NASA scientist, the prosaic explanation of a failed Russian nuclear test to write off phenomena like these.
I fancy the childlike fairytale explanation myself.
In the dark days of what amounts to a period of hibernation for humankind in the northern hemisphere, isn’t it wonderful to know that the Cosmos is still bringing us its own version of Son et Lumière? Those unexplained shimmering beams of light bent by electromagnetic forces relatively few of us yet understand, spinnning constantly round our Blue Planet.
You thought Crop Circles were cool: in midwinter, Light is even Cooler.