I have to admit to succumbing to the lack of light recently. At this time of the year the sun dips below the nearby hill not long after 2 p.m. Recently, the Big Shiny Person in the Sky has been more or less permanently veiled by a dense layer of grey cloud. Cold and wet is difficult to like, but last Saturday was cold and dry, and dramatically different.
There was a heavy frost. Looking out along the valley I noticed an unusual cloud. It was dark smoky grey, and diamond shaped, floating almost at ground level on the valley floor, and looked out of place framed by frost whitened rooves and fields. I put my boots on and set out to see what was happening, but by this time the cloud had evaporated. Following the canal towpath I could see similar bodies of low level cloud in the distance.
As I approached they seemed to recede, so I went up a steep lane towards the moor to get a better view. There was ice in all the puddles – I’d seen an elderly man’s legs whisked from under him by a patch of black ice (luckily he was o.k)- and turning back towards the valley was rewarded by views of wonderful shifting cloud formations.
Crunching ice underfoot, everything seemed right with the world once again. Extensive panoramas were lit by moving shafts of sunlight. I even spotted an amorous (human) couple braving the frost in a disused quarry.
From a meteorogical perspective I think I must have been witnessing an encounter between two airmasses. As well as serving as a watershed, the Pennine hills sometimes hold up an advancing air mass, creating an abrupt contrast in weather between locations only a few miles apart.
My euphoric interlude turned out to be short lived. The swirling grey cloak parked over Langfield Moor proved to be an outrider for the next mass of cloud and rain heading in from the Atlantic. The next day I crashed into an uncharacteristically intense feeling of depression. I knew that this was a passing response to the ‘weather’, and with a little help, soon pulled out of it. For some people this is a much more serious challenge though. In these valleys no-one gets killed by snakes or lions, but historically high suicide rates suggest that many have taken their own lives because the lack of light at this time of the year makes the toll of oppression of one kind or another unbearable.
That photograph of Newgrange, taken in 1986 if I remember rightly, reminds me that our primal ancestors may have known how to negotiate the necessary darkness at this most potentially magical time of the Northern Hemisphere year. Not long after that unforgettable visit we inaugurated what proved to be a very productive and fruitful group with a dark Moon meditation at the Winter Solstice of 1987.
It so happens that this year, the Winter Solstice falls on a dark moon once again. The sun enters Capricorn at 23.15 g.m.t. on Sunday 21st December, followed by a New Moon at 1.35 a.m. on Monday 22nd. The solstice therefore co-incides with the Jewish festival of Hannukah, which is timed for the dark/new Moon nearest the solstice -the darkest day of the year- in order to mark the renewal of life. Some people find entering such intense darkness very threatening, for various cultural and/or personal reasons, so may need careful support around this time.
I hope you have a wonderful solstice, and a peaceful and creative new year.
B.T. 18/12/14. Updated 3/1/15.