These are the days at the close of the year when our allotment of daylight dips into single digits. It seems that the sun never shines, though in reality we have a fair amount of winter sunshine. It is just that the sun is only here for a limited engagement. Get it while it lasts.
I rise before the sun and come home in darkness. If I am lucky the stars are out and draw me up and out of my hunkered self for a few moments of grace in the driveway. Often, though, the day has passed in gray scale beneath a steel wool sky. Overcast days like these are soft and flat and cool and dull, without contrast or dramatic interest unless there has been a fresh snowfall.
I feel the winter clouds blocking out the sun, thick as laundry lint and hard as lead. I seek the bright little dabs of color at the bird feeder or pricked like beadwork in the patterns of the night sky. Natural light, though, with that good old vitamin D, is the real cure for my seasonal disorder.
I love the afternoon light in winter when the sun is low and the shadows long, but coming through my window it makes me drowsy. I need to breathe the winter air to fully take in all the textures and the full quality of the light. I need to get outside and out of my car, which means I actually need to make time for daylight or I will miss what it has to offer.
The directionality of winter sunlight animates everything it touches. It has soft qualities that full sunlight lacks at other times of year. It is also described as warm by photographers and others who paint with light. Perhaps this can be explained because warmer hues are defined in the Kelvin scale as lower temperatures, or perhaps because the air is less humid in winter. It may also be that we are drawn to it like the coals of a glowing hearth when heat and light are one.
I love the way the winter sun makes a stand of tamaracks blaze against a dark, dramatic sky. I love how bright and blue it makes the water of the river, steaming in the cold morning air. It gives even the mundane the air of magic.
That backlit mountainside could be the flank of a sleeping giant lying beneath a patchwork of forest and field. That golden shaft that breaks the wall of clouds is like a promise of the sun’s return, as we turn, in warm winter light.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.