We have five more days before the longest day of the year. There will be over 16 hours of daylight, and, “astronomical twilight,” which is when there is truly no light in the sky left after sunset, occurs at 1:06 a.m. on the Solstice. This is an enormous adjustment in a household where eyes open at 5:00 a.m., no matter what is happening in the sky, or when it was bedtime. I should have been a farmer or a rancher. In fact, if I awaken in a heart-pounding cold sweat from a bad dream in the middle of the night, struggling to return to sleep, I take comfort in knowing that soon it will be 4:00 a.m., and the farmers are up at that hour, milking the cows, feeding the livestock, and all will be right in the world as a new day begins. The trick for an early riser is to go to bed by 9pm–which is effortless, welcome, in winter, with skies that are dark and gray and so little light in the day. But, it’s challenging, come summer, as long and gorgeous sunsets of pink and gold spread across the twilight sky, lasting forever. Afternoon naps are de rigor in summertime. But, sometimes, I just have to go to bed on winter’s time, even as golden light streams through the shutter slats on the windows. I plan to read myself to sleep, but, instead, just watch the light move down the walls, fluttering as it bounces off the lake. It really is a magnificent way to fall asleep– if you can forgive yourself for not watching the sunset from the porch.
We’ve had warm and humid days all week, with afternoon T-storm clouds forming over the lake, and sprinkles here and there. Now that the screens are on, I open up the french doors on the porch to the lake, once the outside temperature registers higher than indoors. I’ve moved the living room furniture to face the water instead of the fireplace, and my little wooden sailboats now line the mantle, waiting for summer winds. We put the motor on the old aluminum boat and had a lovely little jaunt down to Wood’s Bay the other night. I went for a hike in Herron Park where gorgeous purple lupine, yellow heart leaf arnica, and wild rose were scattered across the hills. We’ve started preparing the house for a summer’s worth of guests–airing out bedding, fresh sheets, new window seat cushions, and fixing this and that. It’s quintessential summer as the Solstice approaches.
Sarah said to me awhile back, “You guys are always either preparing for summer or preparing for winter.” I’ve thought about that–wondering whether or not I’m actually here and present for winter and summer, or do I just anticipate its arrival and actually miss the main event? I don’t think so–maybe, I once did, but the older I get, the more I think I am living my life largely in real time. At least I’m mindful about it, even if I miss a beat here and there and lose the rhythm. Not that winter doesn’t last too long, and I began dreaming of Hawaii before February. And, by late September, I begin to look forward to lighting the candles each night and morning, as darkness begins to envelope the land, and it gets quiet and still, with that tender dose of melancholy. I think it’s just a big realignment to move between seasons, here in the north country. There is a sharp line separating them. Winter is long and cold and dark, and it’s important to settle into that season’s quiet slow time, or you’d go crazy. Just about the time you do think you’ll lose it, here comes all this light and warmth and green and color, and you realize you’ve been living in slow time for so long that you don’t know quite what to do with yourself when the day never ends. Sometimes you just have to re-group, and go to bed early anyway, and watch as the light moves down your bedroom wall.
Bed in Summer, Robert Louis Stevenson
In winter I get up at night
And dress by yellow candle-light.
In summer, quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?