There were sundogs, yesterday, as the sun was getting low on the horizon. After sunset, there were high, wispy, noctilucent clouds to be seen, and a red glow in the north-west sky which did not fade until getting on for midnight. This is, after all, the North, where midsummer sunset is dead on the North-West compass point.*
All the coverage of the Summer Solstice, at least in Britain, focus on this being the longest day of the year, with seventeen or so hours of sunlight depending on where you are.** The biggest focus of all is on this morning’s sunrise, especially at sacred spots like Stonehenge. Few discuss, though, how the longest day is also the shortest night; and after all, you can’t have the one without the other.
This has been a big year for me so far, and I’m sure it’s only going to get bigger. I’ve always been more of a dark, cold-loving person though than a hot, summer-loving person, so I’m all in favour of the winter coming back. The world turns, and we turn with it. The shortest nights are past us, and now they are growing again.
* This is true in southern England and the southernmost parts of Wales, and is a key part of the solar alignments at Stonehenge: midsummer sunrise is directly opposite midwinter sunset, and midsummer sunset and midwinter sunrise are at right-angles to them. In the English Midlands, northern England and Scotland, midsummer sunset moves further and further north around the compass.
** This wasn’t meant to be an astronomy post, but fun facts keep creeping in. This varies hugely from one end of the UK to the other, by over 90 minutes! On the south coast of England you get less than 16½ hours of day; in South Wales it’s more like 16 hours 40 minutes, in Lincolnshire or Yorkshire it’s around 17 hours and once you’re up to Inverness or further north it’s over 18 hours.
It’s that time for the seasons to turn again. Today is the shortest day, and the solstice itself is this afternoon, here. It’s just a little bit after sunset here this year, which is nothing more than coincidence but seems rather apt.
This has been a big year, and a strange year. It’s been a year of many changes, changes I didn’t see coming but which have been embedded inside me all along. Mentally, I feel in some ways as if I’ve been working back through my own personal history, picking and teasing at it and unlocking all the mysteries which have been kept trapped inside myself for so long. Although it’s been a year of many changes, I feel as though there may be even more to come.
If it’s a clear sky tonight, I will sit outside and look for meteors, because the last few from the Geminid shower might still be visible. It probably won’t be clear, I have to say, because it’s been rather foggy here recently. Still, I can hope.
I’m posting this early in the morning whilst it’s still dark, drinking my morning cup of tea, and then I’ll be at my desk working all day fixing the various bugs I caused yesterday, because Christmas isn’t until the end of the week. But for me, this is the start of the holiday season, the turning point, the time to settle down in the darkness, to eat and drink and celebrate, and start to turn the world around.
Sadly, I didn’t get to see the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, at least not at the closest approach that would have been visible. We had heavy rain here this afternoon; and after sunset the sky was a uniform, undifferentiated cloudy mass with not even the moon visible.
Oh well: we had clear skies last night, at least, and I did see them both, maybe only about 10 minutes or so apart in the sky, just over the horizon after sunset. I tried to take a photo on my phone, but although Jupiter was clearly visible on it, Saturn was only really spottable if you already knew it was there. Maybe it’ll be clear skies tomorrow, when they are parting again.
The solstice has passed too, of course. Politically this country might seem be descending into some sort of nightmarish fimbulvetr right now, but at least the heavens don’t know that.
The night is drawing in, as I draft this post.* The sky is darkening, and the lamps are lit, to brighten the house and drive back the winter darkness. It’s a time to light candles, and fires, and stare into their hearts. We still have a visceral response to fire, glowing embers and flickering, crackling flames.
As we stare at it, though, the world turns. The world turns, and after today, ice gives way to fire again. It might take time for the darkness to lift and long days to return; but the world will turn, and everything will come around in its cycle. As it does every year. That doesn’t mean, though, that today isn’t time to light a candle and huddle round it, fighting back the dark.
* which was a few days ago, now; and when this post appeared online it was morning. But it’s a better way to open than: “The night is drawing in … well, it was at 4pm on Friday”
There’s five days to go, and I already feel like I want to cancel Christmas. I haven’t written a single card. I haven’t bought many presents, and I have no idea what The Parents actually want. To be fair, neither do they. I try to go look for something on my lunch break, and everyone else has had the same idea. The roads into town are gridlocked; as soon as I’ve found a parking space, it’s time to head out back to the office again.
But then, I look out at the night sky, and I remember what the Yuletide season is really about. I feel the crisp air, watch the frost, and think about the turning seasons. On Saturday,* the daytime stops shrinking and slowly starts to get longer again; and there is winter itself to enjoy. As this year starts to turn over into the next, I know I’m older, wiser, learning more about who I am and what I enjoy in life; and becoming happier with it, too. And I’m looking forward to life with excitement, and wondering just what we’re going to do next.
* Pedants might point out that the solstice is on the 21st, and Saturday is the 22nd. However, the solstice isn’t always on the same date. This December it’s on the 22nd, unless you’re in the Far East.
The fog is thick all over the country at the moment, but it’s only now it is affecting The South that it makes it into the news. Up here in The Forest we’ve had thick fog all week, but it hasn’t troubled the press at all. I’ve been driving the Town route home rather than the normal Country route,* because a fog-bump at 30mph is a lot safer, to my mind, than one at 70.
I’ve recently been rereading The Dark Is Rising, by Susan Cooper, for the nth time. And with the weather gripping the country, I couldn’t help thinking about that book. It’s set at this time of year, between Yuletide and Epiphany, and as the great force of evil, the Dark, rises and attacks the land, it brings on a great freeze and blizzards, stopping anyone from leaving their home. A great freeze is rather more dramatic than all-consuming freezing fog, but the fog has the same effect, muffling us all and slowing us to a standstill.
But now it’s the 21st of December, the time the festive season really starts. The solstice is tomorrow, I believe, and the year will have turned over. The solstice is the proper new year – it’s not an arbitrary date, it’s a measurable point in the turning sky. From tonight, everything will get lighter and brighter and on its way into spring. This is the time of year for flame and warmth and remembering that sunlight will come back into our lives.
* which is longer but a lot quicker
I was thinking: really, I should post something newsworthy, or political, because there hasn’t been much of that on here lately. Nothing in the news has caught my eye, though – it’s all been football-related, and I really couldn’t care one way or the other about it. Then, though, I remembered that today is the summer solstice.*
I’ve been wondering lately: what is the appropriate date for me to do an “end of the year” post. Is it January 1st? Probably not, to be honest. December 21st feels like a much better fit. Samhain would be appropriate, too; and, of course, I’ll have to post something on August 27th, just because that marks a year of blogging here. But today is also a good day to reflect on the changing seasons.
All of the yearly festivals are to some extent dual-faced. Today is a largely time to celebrate summer happiness, but it’s also a time to remember that winter is on its way. I can sit back and look around me, looking at how happy I am right now; but there’s still a long way to go. I’m in a good place at the moment, much happier than I was a year, two years, three years ago, but I’m still wary that something will happen to push me back where I once was.
On the other hand, it’s now High Summer, and I can see that reflected in my life. I am getting a social life once more. I am making friends, and I realise now that I’m a lot better at relating to people, and handling friendship. I’m learning how to avoid driving friends away, too. I’m finding myself. I’ve been learning a lot about my physical body, and learning to appreciate it a little more. I’m even getting better at taking compliments, rather than just stammering: “um … no … really, that’s not true.” Midsummer is a time to appreciate passion and feeling; and I’m even starting to understand that better too.**
* Actually, I haven’t checked the ephemerides to see if it is today. Occasionally it can fall slightly to the side, and the official astronomical solstice is now a few days further on.***
** even if it is in theory rather than practice.
*** Update, August 26th 2020: I have finally looked this up, and the summer solstice in 2006 was indeed on June 21st, at 12:26 UTC.
It’s the shortest day. From now on, things start to get warmer and lighter again.
I wish we could celebrate in the traditional way, by burning a Yule log to bring us health and happiness. Unfortunately, we don’t have a hearth, so that’s out of the window. We’ll have to make do with holly, mistletoe, friendship and over-eating. For me, the solstice is when the festive season properly starts.