“Suddenly the night has grown colder. . . God of love preparing to depart.”
•From the Leonard Cohen song, ‘Alexandra Leaving’

It’s 9:00 AM and still pretty dark beyond my kitchen window. As I write this, we are ten days from the solstice and the hours of light are tightening here in north of normal. I’ve never been north of 60° with the winter solstice looming.

As Nancy and I planned for our time in the Yukon, it wasn’t so much the cold or bugs that had me worried. No, it was more so the brief hours of daylight.

Yukoners recommended that we try to get out for at least an hour each day to stave off any effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Whether we are splitting firewood, shoveling snow, skiing or snowshoeing it is important to give ourselves a daily dose of natural daylight to combat potential depression symptoms associated with SAD. Midday is the time to get outside and tend to chores or play.

In the early 20th century, hundreds of miles of telegraph wire were raised through the British Columbia and Yukon wilderness. Some of the remote stations had two operators. It was not unusual, particularly during the dark winter, for the companions to harbor a pronounced dislike for each other. Imprisoned by winter and likely the affects of SAD, personalities often brooded for months.

We are nearing a tipping point for the year. Physically, the northern pole is tipped maximally away from the sun. In less than two weeks we will march towards spring as the minutes of daylight begin to out compete the minutes of darkness. However there is deception at play. Though the daylight increases, in northerly latitudes we can expect the coldest weather in the coming month or two.

Up here, I am more aware of the shift of seasons. And anything that creates a keener sense of awareness is a good thing. For example, photographer mentors of mine have always told me to put the camera away at midday. The sun is too bright and intense. Sunlight at both ends of the day must shine make through more atmosphere and is not so harsh. Consequently, you tend to get more dramatic photos.

I am finding that same low-angled sunlight is perfect for shooting photos at high noon. Perhaps I should say at “low noon.” At midday, the sun is barely scraping over the treetops and then almost as quickly it arcs towards the horizon again. It has an eerie aspect about it, not unlike the light given off when there is a partial solar eclipse.

The winter solstice, that moment when daylight is most minimal, the word solstice literally means, “sun standing still.” On the backside of the winter solstice we witness the sun returning to it’s annual march northward.

Author Lewis Mumford, historian and noted for his work on urban architecture, wrote, “Without fullness of experience, length of days is nothing. . . .” Those words seem especially poignant for me right now. While some would say we are approaching the death or the end of a calendar year. I would argue that it is only a segment of the arc that makes a complete circle. The seasons are not linear, like a calendar. Instead, they are cyclical.

It has been said, that among early Americans (aborigines), the short days of winter inspired annual bouts of storytelling. For many tribes, animals symbolized various segments of life. For instance, the black bear was a sign of introspection. The bear disappeared in winter and became dormant to . . . think about things. And so it is with me, as the tipping point nears I find myself thinking more about things. Things like slopes of party-colored flowers, the wash of warm sun on my face in early May and going barefoot outdoors.

Ironically I find it comforting to know that we are tipping towards January. And January towards February and so on, until my mukluks and wool sox are pulled off and my pallid feet venture outdoors.