Less than two weeks away from the Winter Solstice, this hemisphere’s longest night of the year, our Christmas season is pervasive darkness, punctuated by a variety of lights.
We have just more than 6 hours of daylight now. If the sky clouds up, darkness falls even earlier and deeper, particularly here on our homestead, nestled on the east side of Mount Riley’s southern ridge.
I adore the darkness, particularly at Christmas time. As I have pointed out often (perhaps best in Headed Straight Into Darkness) I depend on the darkness of the season to contrast with the lights that we traditionally kindle at this time of year.
We lit the cabin for Christmas on December 6th, and put up our Christmas tree. We turn these on as darkness begins to deepen around 3:00 p.m. As ever, I delight in thinking that the few passing boats and ships on Lynn Canal will see this small, quiet oasis of Christmas in the Alaskan wilderness. Right now, I believe we’re the only light showing on this coast between Point Comfort at the end of our peninsula and the end of Beach Road in Haines, some 7 miles north of us (see Lighting a Candle in the Darkness).
But we see more than our own lights these nights. Nature provides her own, far more glorious than ours.
We went outside at 4:00 a.m. Friday morning, and found the aurora borealis out and unusually active in the clear night sky. The whole northern heavens flickered rapidly, creating almost a strobe effect in pale green light! The Geminiid meteor shower is underway. Since our best sky view faces Gemini, between the Big Dipper and Orion, we enjoy perfect alignment for this annual display. We didn’t see many, but a few long streaks of light shown through the aurora while we stood in the cold wind, watching.
The next time I went outside, just before 6:00 a.m., the aurora had settled considerably, but could still be seen across the mountain tops to the north. Several hours later, the sun rose behind the Coast Range facing us across the water.
Rarity increases preciousness. In this region, particularly on this homestead at this time of year, light becomes a rare and precious commodity.
I swiped the title for this essay from the title of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lovely CD, Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas (check your local independent music store).