As soon as we change away from Daylight Savings Time I notice it. The Darkness is back.
That first weekend after the time change, in fact, found our family on the top of the mountain, calculating how many minutes of daylight were left and how quickly we could descend the mountain and return home. We made it, but just barely. The last tricky bit of the journey through the woods across the road from our house was done by the light of my smartphone screen.
These days our rooster crows as late as 8am, and the sun has set by 4:30pm. In another month we’ll lose almost another hour of daylight from each day, our payment for those long, long summer days when it’s still bright at 10pm.
Of course, this is nothing new. I’ve lived in Northern places all my life and I’m used to the very short days in the winter. The difference this year is that when it gets dark in a rural area, it is really and truly dark. It’s the kind of dark that totally obliterates any view out the windows except for your own reflection shining back at you. There are no street lights, no neon signs, no traffic signals or billboards outside. Just darkness.
It’s different, psychologically, from anywhere else I’ve lived. In the city we could go walking around at night in the middle of the winter, either to go somewhere or just for the fun of it. Now I wouldn’t dream of going walking along our road at night, even with a headlamp. Well, OK, I would consider it, but there would have to be a pretty compelling reason to be out there. The truth is that once the sun goes down I want to be indoors, where it’s warm and bright and safe.
This real darkness feels like it deepens the instinct to turn inwards and rest in the winter. It’s easier for me to see how my work in this time of the year is internal work, the work that I do while looking at those reflections in the windows. How am I behaving in the world? Who do I want to be? What do I need to learn or practice to move towards becoming that person? When it’s dark it is so much easier to become frightened by the shadows in our own minds, and preoccupied with what we find there. I’m trying to use this tendency for self-reflection to nurture growth, instead of spending time picking at old hurts. It’s hard, but I think it’s worth it.
I find it interesting that I never noticed the effect that streetlights had on me until they were gone. The real effects of light pollution seem to be emotional and spiritual ones: all that excess light prevents us from really experiencing darkness. We need the darkness in order to see the stars, and the bio-luminescence of the ocean, and the truth inside our own hearts.