Monday, November 17, 2008

Darkness Falls...Fall Darkness

November in the Pacific Northwest means, mostly, darkness. Sometime about now, the middle of the second-to-last month on the calendar, we find ourselves peering unbelieving at the clock several times a day.

8AM? Really?

How can it be only 5PM when I'm putting the hens away, flashlight in hand?

Wow, I'm exhausted - think I'll hit the 7:30.

The sun sinks so low that for many households, it never gets above the trees, creating the warped perception of dawn into dusk with no day inbetween.

Every Autumn, it's the same. We are never prepared for the darkness, no matter how prepared we think we are. It always sneaks up on us. Somehow we feel it happens overnight, although in our brains we know that can't be. On our island, we get the added benefit of a brief season of ephemeral fog, doing even more to usher in the winter to come.

Fog is very micro-climate specific and as such behaves differently around the island. On SSF, the fog usually creeps softly in during the wee hours and lays waiting for us as we awake, late, in the morning. Restless, I often wake between 2am and 4am and can't stop myself from staring out across the field that stretches south from the house. The mist seems to glow and it seems dawn is near, when in fact it's still hours away. Soon the rains will set in and these luminescent nights will be gone, so I don't mind the lost sleep.

In the Pacific Northwest, we battle darkness on two fronts. First, our fall and winter days are short because we're so far north. Second, our infamous rain and cloudcover turns even our daytime hours dismal from Nov-Feb. Science has begun taking a more critical look at this combination, uncovering ever more evidence that so many months under the cloak of darkness may well contribute to our astronomically-high rates of multiple sclerosis and even some cancers. Vitamin D deficiency, high suicide rates, skyrocketing depression, a disturbing percentage of the nation's high-profile serial killers...all part of the price we pay for a "mild" climate and excessive natural beauty.

On our island, we are even darker. When we moved here from nearby Seattle, I could not believe how claustrophobic and disorienting the nights were. Fine, if you stayed close to home, but truly unnerving if you ventured out onto our country roads. Between mist, rain, suicidal deer and an almost unbelievable veil of darkness, I found myself crawling along the highway at ridiculous speeds.

Which makes today all the more special. We've had nice weather, over a weekend no less, but today was spectacular - and we don't normally get "spectacular" half-way through November. It was throw-open-the-doors warm (and I did) and every blade of grass just glistened. I wish I could bottle the endorphins that a day like today produces and drink them in January.

But, in a very real way, the dark of now makes the light of July that much more special. And, luckily, with every year on this island, I find more ways to bring light into winter's darkness and to appreciate what the lack of light brings. More family time inside, Dylan at the piano, Mom washing up (or at the computer, like now). A sense of "circling the wagons" almost, settling in and settling down against the season to come. On Vashon, folks take this time to turn inward - it's typical that you don't see your friends from the Halloween street party until after Presidents Day. To be honest, that took some getting used to, but I think I understand now. To everything there is a season.

Welcome winter, come what may.

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