December is here! And like several of its fellow months in our annual cycle, one of those pivotal months with multiple transitions.
First off, December is the year’s final hurrah. The end of the line so far as 2019 is concerned. Another completed round on the endless circular journey.
How did time manage rush past so quickly? Soon, 2020 will arrive—a brand new year ushering in a brand new decade!
But before that change happens, we’ll also switch seasons—autumn will come to a close, and winter will officially commence. That bit of astronomical metamorphosing occurs at the moment of the year’s second solstice—which is also when daylight’s pendulum reverses to begin its crucial swing heading in the opposite direction.
So, practically speaking, December initiates the transition from daylight light loss to daylight gain. Hooray!
Yet even with this welcome news, December remains the year’s darkest month. While it sports a full complement of 31 days—whereas poor truncated February manages only a measly 28—December still has fewer total hours of overall daylight.
From sunrise to sunset, not one day in December manages much over nine hours of weak, low-angle light. By contrast, every single day in June beams brightly down with more than 15!
You’re not just imagining most of your time this month is spent in either darkness or twilight. The grumble about December’s darkness is a legitimate fact.
Come December, there’s a different look to the landscape. In the woods, the carpet of fallen leaves has lost its springiness. They are no longer fluffy, subject to animated stirrings by capricious winds, but more tamped down, matted. And their lively brown of subtle color variations has become much more a duller monotone.
Meadows and prairies have changed, too. The fields of dried brown stems remaining from summer’s weeds and wildflowers, have noticeably weathered and withered, become more desiccated and fragile, looking ever shaggier.
At least recent temperatures have returned to what I consider their more normal range for what the calendars and almanacs cheerily claim are the latter days of autumn. I don’t expect September-like weather, but I simply wasn’t ready for that premature arctic blast which tore into us like an enraged polar bear a few weeks back. It was way too early for such a dose of lingering cold and snow
Its unexpected suddenness affected my equanimity. I was left shivering and discomposed—feeling more than a bit waylaid and robbed by having the last of my autumn snatched away and buried under inches of frozen white flakes.
Adding to my trauma, I immediately went into fretfully-awake mode every night, worrying about the inadequate state of my woodpile. Would I be able to stay ahead and keep us warm? What if it snowed more? How much wood was I going to need this heating season?
If chainsaws came with headlights, I’d likely have been out there at 3 a.m., working through my questions, fears and insomnia.
My anxiety has lessened as the weather has improved and temperatures seem to have become more normalized and stable. I’ve also managed to add a couple more split-and-stacked cords to my firewood reserves.
But the unsettling lingers. I don’t think I’ll be able to rest easy until I see a vernal hillside spatted with hepaticas and bloodroot.
Planet earth keeps spinning and tilting as it travels along its prescribed elliptical path through star-spangled space. The sun still shines upon our blue-green sphere. Seasons come and go, days unfold, one after another.
December is here! Twelfth-month in the old vernacular. If you enjoy the practically poetic Native American names, Full Cold Moon, or alternately, the Long Nights Moon. My Celtic ancestors preferred “an Dudlachd”—“the Darkness.”
Change is inevitable, necessary…and if not always enjoyable, at least interesting. It’s what makes the another ride on the eternal merry-go-round worthwhile.
Jim McGuire, a nature columnist, resides in Englewood, and can be reached at email@example.com.