On the Solstice

The sun is barely up when I arrive at the overlook at Lighthouse Beach. It doesn’t even seem to glare like it did in the fall, back in September and October. That’s when the sun would blaze down on my forehead and into my eyes, seeming to make the pushing of the mower a more wretchedly hot ordeal than in the depths of July and August.

But now our star is at its greatest distance from us, and even though it might try to shine right at us like a cop’s flashlight, it’s too weak. The broad, thin clouds easily mask it. The angle of the light, though, this time of year is incredible. Pinks and golds and lavenders seemingly overlay everything.

Meanwhile, the dry wind of the northwest slices cleanly through us like a cold razor. It’s too beautiful not to dash outside to see the show. But the clarity is deceptive, as that cold comes on the un-coated one suddenly.

With sunrise after 7 a.m. and sunset just about 4 p.m., those who make their living dependent upon natural light are always racing. Every moment of twilight is milked. Too often I have been repairing a fence this time of year, and dropped a screw or washer, only to regret not having brought a flashlight with me. The dark races up to us, draping our workspaces as our irises widen. But never enough. Work is finished by flashlight, when a helpful partner or child is available.

And yes, we have arrived at the shortest day of the year. I wonder why it seems to have come upon us so quickly this year. Perhaps because I have been keeping better track, now daily, of tides, wind speeds and length of day.

Perhaps because Sofie will be away for Christmas this year. Unlike the only other time my daughter’s been away on this day, I’m much better prepared. We have plans for before and after. But she leaves Boston almost exactly at the moment the planets line up for the winter solstice. Auspicious.

Unlike 10 days hence, this has always seemed like the end of the year. It’s more appropriate. New Year's, being a week after Christmas, already feels like a hangover. Every errant package opened, every family member seen. The Christmas carols are done and unwelcome. And school vacation concludes very soon after. Dec. 31 and Jan. 1 are a holiday in search of poignancy beyond the arbitrary setting on a calendar.

Now is usually the time I will leave the car and walk down to the beach with a friend. Not just to the water’s edge, but follow it south and east from the safety of the harbor to the ocean. But not this year. Since the formation of Fool’s Channel, the walk is foreshortened. Which is the disappointing flip side to the thrills of this summer when Sofie and I cruised in our Mako, Tilikum, around the outside of Morris Island, up through Fool’s, over the bar and into the open ocean. Then down to the double hairpin turn at the end of South Beach and back into the Southway.

That we cannot walk out to these same spots now is more than a fair trade.

And every day we look to see the harbor channel tighten just a bit more. Winter could do it, sending just enough sand through to make it impassible at anything but the highest tides. This shortest day of the year is the marker for the season dramatic things happen.

From here forward, day lengthens, light expands even as the air and ocean grow colder through the next few months. From here our beach walk shortens, even as the channel nearby grows more shallow. The chances of finding a good seashell diminish with miles of ocean shoreline cut off, but the churn of the sea increases – and thus things long buried are more likely to come to the surface.

And perhaps for us, too, this darkest of our days help us tune out the colors and the wind and instead revel in the 15 hours of night. These are the productive times, when things do indeed begin to come to the surface. This is when art is made, songs written and tales weaved, in the cold of the winter, and the dark of its solstice.

I think I may just stay in the car a bit longer.