A few days ago it literally dawned on me: the eastern sky is a lot lighter on my morning walks.
And when I noticed that, I realized that for the past week or so my evening (pre-dinner) prayers had been said into the setting sun, instead of in darkness.
We’re seven weeks past the Winter Solstice. Texas doesn’t see the extremes of light and dark that more northern locations do (or southern locations in the southern hemisphere), but we have less than 10 hours of daylight at the Winter Solstice. We’ve already picked up almost an hour of light a day and that’s noticeable. Spring is on its way.
And while the coming of Spring is generally a good thing, I bid farewell to dark mornings with a bit of sadness.
My day begins before dawn
I was a fairly typical college student – I would do anything I could to avoid early classes. I was fine starting at 9:00 AM, but given the choice of an 8:00 class with a better professor or an afternoon class with a lesser instructor, I always took the later class.
And then I graduated with a degree in Industrial Engineering and spent the first 17 years of my career working in factories, where the usual starting time is 7:00 AM. When I moved to Texas I was finally in an office environment with an 8:00 start, but the summer heat meant that if I wanted to exercise I had to do it before work, not after.
Most weekdays my alarm goes off at 5:15. I’m at the office by 6:15 and head for the small gym in our building, where my preferred form of exercise is walking outside.
Around the Winter Solstice I’m in the dark the whole time, and around the Summer Solstice it’s already quite light when I begin. But for most of the year I begin in relative darkness and the sky gets progressively lighter as I go.
Liminal times are magical times, even on a weekday morning before work.
I’ve always loved the night
This time of year reminds me how much I’ve always loved the night.
Part of that was practical. Night was the one time I was safe from being drafted to work in my father’s “garden” (which was more like a small farm). Any time I see Pagans romanticizing agriculture I know they haven’t spent any time on a real farm – it’s a ton of work. And when I turned on the TV (I know, a dangerous thing, but it was my primary connection to the wider world) it seemed like all the cool stuff was happening at night.
More than that, night has always been a magical time. The witching hour is midnight, not noon.
It’s not my most productive time, though. Even on days I’m not working and I’m keeping somewhat later hours, my best times for writing are mid-morning and early afternoon. That’s probably one of the reasons my writing always seems so slow – most days I’m occupied with my paying job at those times (it’s my most productive time there too).
But I don’t have to be at my best to enjoy a walk outside. Most days it’s a good way to get ready to be at my best. I run through my schedule for the day, think about whatever’s on my mind, and outline upcoming blog posts.
And for a few weeks out of the year, I can do it in the dark.
The dark is restful
We sometimes use “dark” as a euphemism for things that are dangerous, illicit, or evil. That usage reflects the deep-seated human fear of the dark… or more precisely, our fear of things the dark conceals that might harm us. As much as I loved the woods as a kid, I pretty much stayed out of them after sundown. I wasn’t afraid of the dark itself, but I was terrified of running into spiders and spider webs I couldn’t see.
But that human fear of the dark makes it safer for those of us who venture out into it. Some mornings I don’t encounter another living human on my walks. Other times I pass other people walking or running. Car traffic is less, particularly at earlier hours.
And people who are out before dawn generally mind their own business.
Even when the level of activity is the same, dark mornings are more conducive to introspection and deep thinking than bright mornings.
Ever and always, the Wheel turns onward
My favorite season is Fall. It brings cooler weather, shorter days, and the approaching holidays, both secular and sacred. But Fall eventually becomes Winter, and Winter becomes Spring. Ever and always, the Wheel of the Year turns onward.
I love the dark mornings we get for the month or so on either side of the Winter Solstice. But they don’t last forever. We get an hour’s reprieve when Daylight Saving Time begins in March, but that adds an hour of daylight to the evening – and costs us an hour of sleep on a Saturday night.
I’d love to get rid of Daylight Saving Time – but only if everybody gets rid of it at the same time. I lived in Indiana when they didn’t observe DST. We never had to reset our clocks, but everybody else did. In essence we spent part of the year on Eastern time and the rest of the year on Central time. Changing the clocks twice a year is a lot easier.
On the positive side, the earlier dawns make it easier to track the progress of the Sun. In addition to rising earlier, it’s rising further north on the horizon every day. By the equinox it will rise in the due east, and then it will continue toward the north and reach its maximum at the Summer Solstice (61° on the horizon where I am). By that point, I’ll have 14 hours and 21 minutes of daylight.
And then the days will start getting shorter again.
For now, I look forward to the end of cold weather, such as it is here in Texas. I look forward to new flowers, new leaves on the trees, and all the beauty of Spring.
And I say farewell to dark mornings.