The Darkest Days of the Year

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By Amy Miller

Hello, darkness my old friend.

There seems to be something sinister about loving the darkness. I know I am not alone, that there are others in New England who look forward to winter, with its chilling climate and afternoon blacks. But it’s hard to admit a passion for a season dreaded by so many. It even feels unhealthy to crave weather that sends people shivering into their homes.

Sure, I rise to the occasion when summer comes: I dine outside, garden with gusto and dare to dunk in Maine’s coastal waters. But it is December that I love. With the 15 hours of dark we are given, there are so many lights to warm our hearts. Every drive brings a new display of holiday lights. Inside, we light up our own Christmas tree and then for eight nights watch the Hanukkah candles glow.

Next Friday, Dec. 21 marks the pinnacle – the shortest day of the year. In New England that means anywhere from about 8 hours and 45 minutes of light (Maine) to 9 hours and 5 minutes of light (Connecticut). This is when the sun is tilted 23.5 degrees to the south (Tropic of Capricorn), leaving northern areas with their smallest daily dose of sunlight. Down in New Zealand at that time of year, residents will be seeing the sun for about 15.5 hours each day, but those in Fairbanks, Alaska, are getting fewer than four hours of light. And the polar circles are getting either all day or all night right now.

More than 200 years ago, New Englanders experienced unexpected darkness. “New England’s Dark Day,” as it came to be called, was May 19, 1780. It was so dark at noon people thought the world might be ending, the sun might never shine again or judgment day had come. Scientists determined 200 years later that forest fires in Ontario, Canada had brought the soot and smoke that blocked our skies.

As I drive each evening past the yellowing lights of houses coming alive, I am delighted to head home to nest by a flaming woodstove, cook a meal and share an evening of homework, movies or reading. And in these days of dark, my family can gaze at the stars long before bedtime. Or enjoy a hot tub under the full moon without staying up to await the darkness.

About the author: Amy Miller is a writer who works in the public affairs office of EPA New England in Boston. She lives in Maine with her husband, two children, seven chickens, two parakeets, dog and a great community.

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