Goddamn, what rainy and shitty day. It’s that kind of dark that can only arrive under a late-fall rainstorm. The sky hangs so low that you can’t see the top of the buildings downtown and fog obscures your view of the valley below. Car headlights float like specters in the mist. The blackbirds gather in the trees and make them look like twitching, hairy lollipops, like live licorice lollies. I hate licorice but I love a tree full of cackling blackbirds.
We are nearing winter. Some people would argue that the time it gets cold is winter. But it’s not winter until that special day when time between sunrise and sunset is shortest. When I was a kid, I remember coming home from school and having a scant two hours before it got dark. I loved that, the coming of the darkness. It took the day, whatever day, and made it better. Since the days of my youth were never all that great and often violent, I needed something to remove the jagged edges from life.
Before I became a cranky old bum, I invited daylight savings time. At first the change in the clock was uncomfortable. After all, why can’t whoever decides these things just pick a time? Why does it have to go back and forth twice a year? For god’s sake, give a brother a break. After late-September and into October, I spent my days getting up in the dark and then, bing, we set the clocks back and we’re getting up in the daylight again. Bummer. What kind of person wants more workday? I want less, always less. I want it good and dark at 9 a.m. and by 5 p.m.
But nature always trumped the designs of the people who wanted more workday. By the beginning of November, the days became shorter and we are getting up in the dark again. It was as if we had thrown the light of day a life preserver, and it was going down anyway no matter what.
Then, into December, it didn’t matter what time we got up or came home, darkness lurked around like a cat around a bird feeder. As much as I loved the nearness of the dark, I envied those people up north. Can you imagine a day that was only five or six hours long? Suicide rates in northern countries are the highest in the world—Denmark, Norway, Finland, those kinds of places. I could never figure that out. Why kill yourself when you have all that night to look forward to?
I’m a low-light kind of guy. Sure, I like sunny days. I like to frolic and play in the sweet sunshine. But too much of that just turns me into a wreck. When I went to school in Wyoming, they would have three and four weeks in a row when the weather did not change. This was something that a true Midwesterner cannot abide. Always blue skies, a whisper of cold, dry. I was out every day flyfishing or screwing around in the woods. I took long walks around Laramie, nary a raincloud to brighten my day. I came into my office one morning and Janice, one of the other grad students, asked my why I looked so tired and on edge. “Goddamn it,” I said. “Don’t you ever have a fucking thunderstorm around here.”
I wanted to rip my eyes out. Because I like the dark, my days in Wyoming became terribly long. I’d get up at 4:30 a.m. to walk around the neighborhood or walk to campus to feel the night, see the empty streets, and see all the interesting life that occurs in the darkness. I’d stay up late, walk out Beaufort to Wyoming 287 just to get a feel for the stillness and experience the loneliness of an empty highway. I’d walk down 15thStreet past the high school and into old Laramie, where the lights in the houses guided people into bed at the end of their days. The glow from inside the houses conveyed both warmth and loneliness. A dog barking in the night a couple of streets over was and is still one of my favorite sounds. The smells of wood burning in fireplaces and the tarry smell of coal burning in furnaces filled my head with all kinds of poems.
When the short days come, I want to lay around and sleepjust like every other human. It’s a conundrum of the late fall. I want to lay about, reading books and burrowing into pillows and blankets. But rainy, crappy days get me motivated to do things outside, inside, out in the city, alone at home. I talk walks in the rain, no matter how cold it gets. I look forward to the a snowy night hushing the entire city.
Then comes winter, that time after that magical shortest day. For three months we have real cold, particularly late-January to early March. The cold brings the city in closer while it makes distances longer. Nothing is quite as near as the interior of a strange house on a cold night. Then, nothing is as far away as the end of the next block. You are never nearer to yourself than when your breath hangs in the air in a cold, still, winter night.
So, today is an omen. The best time of year has arrived and bodes only good things for us who love the darkness of day and of night. Other people see this as Christmas and New Year, conviviality and family and good times. They complain of the cold and forget that it’s the reason for all the warmth of the season. I look forward to the coming months. Dark, cold, snowy, rainy, shitty. I hate the light during this time of year and mourn when the sun shines.
I’ll get something done today and blame the darkness for it.