December 6, 2008 by Ellen Stimson in Nature, Nighttime, Wintertime

The ancient alchemists believed that your material goes black just before it turns to gold. That has always helped me in times of deep despair. Remembering that the most absorbing blackness comes before just the dawn is a trick I have used to endure with hope.
And seeds germinate in the dark. They snuggle down into the deepest darkest recesses and wait. Then from the cold and dark they begin to grow…..
I expected to learn how to live better by living closer to the natural world when I moved to the mountains. But I fight the learning. Every single time. When winter comes and the sun dips behind the mountain at 4 o ‘ clock and the dark cold seeps into my bones, I still run around like crazy. I wonder why everything closes early. I rail against the the consuming quiet with my phone, my blackberry, and my voice. I play loud music and I talk way too fast. It is as if the quiet is a scary thing that must be conquered along with the dark.
And still the darkness comes, and the quiet envelops our world. The stars fill the sky and the magnificent cope of heaven offers up a chance to wonder in the all consuming quiet. The birds munch quietly and move slowly at the feeder conserving their energy and waiting with hope. The chipmunks are all snuggled in somewhere. We don’t see them at all for months. Likewise the raccoons and foxes are mostly absent from the landscape and the deer are around mainly in the mornings. Where do they all go in this leafless world? You would think we would see them everywhere. But we don’t. They are tucked away, now a gentle waiting part of the quiet and of the dark. The people who have adapted eat an early supper and sleep a deep long nighttime slumber, waking refreshed and renewed sometime in April.
We smile at little children who are afraid of the dark. But what are city lights a monument to, if not that same old fear wrought on a more grown up stage? There are no street lights up here. It is why our nighttime skies are so magnificent. And yet every year when new people move in they argue to add lights since they can’t see so well to drive at night in the winter. The old timers wonder where they have to go, and tell them that nothing is open anyway so they should just go home, or maybe back where they came from. The letters in the papers slow down by about February when the snow has lightened the landscape naturally and months go by before the argument begins again. The Vermonters barely offer any words to the debate, knowing that if they are simply quiet and steadfast nothing much will happen anyway. And so the lights never come, but the stars always do.
Winter seems to ask us to lean into the darkness. To be quiet and see what might come up in the spring if we simply slow down, and snuggle into the silence and the deepest blackness where everything is perfectly simple and the new growth can begin. I think maybe all this darkness has a voice and we are supposed to be listening. Apparently the rest of the animals can hear it so maybe I can too.
Be still. Yes. I am trying to pay attention……


  • jamie

    I fight winter. I can’t stand that I watch the dusk settle over my town through the windows of this office building and by the time I actually do get to go home, it’s completely dark. I do the same thing–music, blackberry, anything to try not to get sucked into the winter. Maybe I should try to pay attention, too.

    *PS thanks for your latest comments–you’re awesome. I so appreciated the one about your crazy family and the two chances we get. 🙂 Ecuador boy could be very “Nights in Rodanthe”…

  • Texan Mama @ Who Put Me In Charge

    Another beautiful, picturesque post. Your writing is so artisitic and clear. You paint the picture beautifully.

  • Katiedid

    “lean into the darkness” so beautifully said. Harder to do than to think about especially since Christmas is coming which is like a national effort to end all silence forever.
    I have trouble with staying still. I fight winter with my Ipod and brightly coloured leather gloves. Perhaps giving into the darkness is what is required. But how to change the momentum of the way I have been doing it for thirty some odd years. Now there is a question…

  • starrlife

    Driving down a pitch black road with no lights is something special now isn’t it? Your running around sounds alot like the squirrels and then they settle down. have you gotten any cedar waxwings through there yet?

  • Mighty Morphin' Mama

    I have been thinking of you and the seasonal struggle. I hope you can hear the message, but also keep the darkness out of your soul.

  • K

    That is so beautiful. Thank you.

  • jamie

    E–do you have email?

  • Jennifer

    Ah, yes. We are on the same wavelength… I’m having a tougher time this year, for some reason, but I wonder if it’s because I do know, maybe more this year than ever, that I shouldn’t be fighting this…*sigh*

    Beautiful post.

  • Molls

    This is a beautiful quiet piece of writing.

  • library lady

    You know me, probably the only woman in America who loves the early dark! I find it falls over me like a warm comforter and the quiet is just as comforting. This morning I played Bach in my car all the way to work and will let the Brandenburg Concertos provide all the sound I’ll need all the way home tonight. I think my metabolism is just one or two degrees above that of a sloth…or is it below?

  • Trannyhead

    There are things about winter that I love. Skiing being a big one, as well as snowshoeing and drinking hot chocolate and chamomile tea.

    But this is the part of winter when I still like it. The early part. The part where it hasn’t gotten old, yet.

    By the time March gets here? It will be a WHOLE other story …

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