This air is cold and words are thin, but something alive
stirs within a silent heart which knows the night as tender
spouse of ancient light.
by Steve Patterson--author of Balance
Light is an easy thing to take for granted. That is, until it’s in short supply! During the summer months, sunlight is simply a given, a fact of arctic life, an overabundant commodity. Anyone who actually wants to sleep in the summertime will have to put forth a good bit of effort to block out the incessant light. But in the winter it’s a whole different ballgame.
December is our darkest month. In fact, we’re only a few days away from the winter solstice, the darkest day of the year. While it’s true that the lack of sunlight can be a difficult thing to endure, I have been amazed by all there is to see…even in the dark!
Under the cover of night, an ordinary streetlight can transform snowflakes into diamonds. Miles away, against an ebony winter sky, a pair of frolicking snow machines resemble Castor and Pollux playing a game of tag. It really doesn't take a lot of illumination to create an impressive display. Even the faintest stream of light can be interesting or encouraging or both.
I’ve heard it said that, even if you don’t have all the light you want, you must walk in the light that you have. I'm not sure where I heard that…or who said it…or when. But it's good advice for navigating down uneven paths or through unfamiliar territory. It's something I need to remember (better) when I'm in between streetlights or have ventured farther than usual from the porch. No matter how dark things seem to be, it is my hope to walk in the light that I have.
The photo above was taken around 11:15 a.m. on a sleepy Saturday morning, exactly one week ago. I was standing in front of my house, facing south, getting ready to walk to school. This is the light that we have right now…for about three hours a day…if it isn’t cloudy...but only in the southern sky.
The photo below was taken two or three minutes later, 1/4 of a mile up the road, facing north. Yes, the sky is dark, but Christmas lights, for me, are always something of an unexpected delight. And streetlights can be friendly walking partners too.
Of course, the aurora borealis, commonly known as the northern lights, is an unexpected delight of a completely different kind. This photo was taken by Brad...a friend and the first principal that I worked with here on the North Slope. He captured this image while chaperoning a student basketball tournament in another North Slope village, Anaktuvuk Pass. Those peaks you see in the background are part of the Brooks Range. When I talked to Brad about using his photo, he asked if I wanted him to relate the “full” story. You know, how they had to trudge up the hill through snow that was 50 inches deep while the temperature plummeted down to -900 F! The kids managed to survive by huddling together for warmth until just before he snapped the photo, but alas, twelve people died in the capturing of this image. Well, that’s the uncensored, unverified, undoubtedly enhanced version of the story. And I love it! Ha! Thanks, Brad.
Maybe the simplest, yet sweetest, light I see is the one that welcomes me home each evening. I know the snow looks cold, but doesn’t the light look warm? I love coming home to this soft, saffron glow.
I shot a few seconds of video on my walk to school the other day. What you see are the lights of the village. What you can’t see is the sideways snow that is blowing past me at about thirty miles per hour. These aren’t blizzard conditions…just a little wind and blowing snow. I have walked to school on days when all I could see was the next streetlight up the road! On days when I can’t even see the streetlights…well...I'm still here, anyway.
Thanks to Steve Patterson for allowing me to borrow from his blog, Balance, for this posting. His poem so exquisitely illumines the delicate dance between darkness and light...and the promise of things unseen...I was really glad to be able to include it.