Looking for Light in the Darkness

A Yankee Notebook with Willem Lange

We hear a lot of grousing, as the winter solstice approaches, about the misery and depression caused by the early evening darkness. We perhaps don't appreciate how good we've got it here, compared to Ebenezer Scrooge, poring over his ledgers by candlelight at 51º north latitude. And consider the travail of the printers, also working in the near dark, as they tried to decipher Charles Dickens' almost illegible hen-scratchings, blots, circles, and marginal additions, in those opening lines of A Christmas Carol.

Most of Europe is darker than we are during the winter. The mouth of the Rhone River, where it debouches into the sunny Mediterranean, is at the same latitude as Woodstock, Vermont. Paris is north of Montreal. And Trondheim at 63º north? There's a reason Scandinavians stage a mighty Christmas light show. It's a Viking gesture of defiance at the all-encompassing darkness.

My friends Larry and Helen in Kugluktuk, on the shore of Coronation Gulf looking out upon the old Northwest Passage, have dining room picture windows facing south and east up the broad valley of the Coppermine River. The view is spectacular. But at the moment it's pretty much a reflection of what's indoors; the sun has disappeared for a few weeks. In mid-January, Helen will post a photo taken with her cell phone, of a bit of bright orange peeping over the southern hills at high noon. Many people would find that time of darkness oppressive, but the changes between that and uninterrupted midsummer daylight are so swift and dynamic it's actually interesting.

When my buddy Dudley and I, skiing night and day during the 200-mile Alaska Marathon in February of 1985, I was fascinated by not only the depth of the darkness in the bush – holding my mittened hand a foot above the snow, I could see its shadow by the light of Venus – but by the discernible difference in the time of each day's sunrise. It might have been 26º below one night, but spring was on its way back like a tsunami.

Still, February is two months away (when, incidentally, if nothing more goes wrong, I'll be enjoying almost endless daylight south of 60º). How do we make the most of the current crimp in our daylight hours?

If you have to be at work by the clock, there's not much – except, perhaps, rejoice that we no longer have to remove our 6-volt car batteries on icy nights and carry them indoors to keep warm. Reinstalling them in the predawn by flashlight and with freezing fingers was one of life's grimmest chores 65 years ago. How often, in order to be near the head of the line of contractors, was I at the lumberyard in the dark. Again, at 4:15 in the afternoon, I routinely announced, "Well, 'bout time to pick up." Safely packed, we sat on tailgates in the dark, talked a while, and headed home.

We cope in various ways. Kids in far northern Europe and Russia take spa soaks and read by full-spectrum light at school. In some parts of Scandinavia, alcoholism runs rampant during the winter; in others, thousands take to skis in long-distance loppets. Seasonal affective disorder seems to disrupt many sedentary lives; working inside "light boxes" seems to help. Me, I've got a little terrier who can read a clock, and knows in advance when it's time for our daily walk in the park.

And everywhere there are lights. Houses, trees, even concrete-mixing trucks blaze across our eyes wherever we turn. Men with hydraulic lifts deck the downtown streets with overhead stars and angels with trumpets. Why the trumpets? They're announcing: the sublime metaphor of a tiny newborn baby bringing light to a dark world. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, and Kwanzaa, both focusing on rows of candles with symbolic meaning.

Light attracts us during dark times. We gather like moths to a flame and sit in communal circles, singing, talking, telling stories, watching familiar faces by firelight, candlelight, or lamplight. Our backsides may be freezing, but it's then that we feel warmest and closest together.

Photo credit: Joe Klementovich


Return to the
Windows to the Wild
Main Page

WINDOWS TO THE WILD WITH WILLEM LANGE is generously supported by the Alice J. Reen Charitable Trust and the Bailey Charitable Foundation

Willem Lange’s wardrobe is generously donated by The Kittery Trading Post


Watch Online

Moose Whispers

Willem goes looking for moose with long-time moose researcher Charles Willey in Colebrook.

Watch More Looking for Light in the Darkness

TV Schedule

Full Schedule



Learn More...


Podcast

Listen on your favorite podcast platform

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts Subscribe on Google Podcasts Subscribe on Podbean Subscribe on I Heart Radio Subscribe on Amazon Music

 

Thanks to our podcast partner: The Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication at Franklin Pierce University


More Video

Long Trail Hike In Vermont

Long Trail Hike In Vermont

A trip along Vermont's Long Trail.

Mount Auburn Cemetery

Mount Auburn Cemetery

Join host Willem Lange on a tour of a Cambridge oasis -- the Mount Auburn Cemetery.

Journey Across Ireland

Journey Across Ireland

Willem and a group of people from throughout New England took a trip through Ireland.

Scenic Railriders

Scenic Railriders

What do you do with a section of 170-year-old abandoned railroad track?


Adventures With Floki

Adventures With Floki

Melissa Elam has hiked all of NH's 4,000-foot mountains with her cat, Floki.

Eco River Run

Eco River Run

A North Conway family shares what they learned about the effects of climate change.

Changing Winter

Changing Winter

Gabriel Andrus will ski from the northern border of NH to its southern border this winter.

Rockhounds

Rockhounds

There are gems in the hills. Host Willem Lange learns there's a lot to rock hunting.

Record-Setting Hiker

Record-Setting Hiker

Arlette Laan is the first woman to hike all eleven of the National Scenic Trails.

Kayaking With Cookies

Kayaking With Cookies

Kayaker Betsy Wish set out years ago to meet the people who catch our lobsters.

Coastal Trek

Coastal Trek

Host Willem Lange is at sea on the American Eagle schooner.

All Persons Trail

All Persons Trail

The Manchester Cedar Swamp Preserve is considered an ecological gem.

One Thousand Hours Outside

One Thousand Hours Outside

New Hampshire resident Susan Dromey Heeter is competitive.

Hiking with David

Hiking with David

David Krueger is a Language Specialist / Interpreter, you may have seen him.

Rowing the Erie Canal

Rowing the Erie Canal

Competitive rower Erik Frid takes a break from competition to row 300 miles.

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom

Susie Spikol is a naturalist at the Harris Center for Conservation Education.

Community Outing

Community Outing

Mt. Eustis Ski Hill opened in 1939 and was a community gathering place until it closed.

Sectional Hiker

Sectional Hiker

Redline guide Ken Hodges hikes with Debby "Bear Repellent" Roberts.

Summits In Solidarity

Summits In Solidarity

Willem hikes with partners and participants of Summits in Solidarity.

Wood Island Lifesaving Station

Wood Island Lifesaving Station

The Lifesaving Station at Wood Island was used for sea rescue prior to the Coast Guard.

Wood Island Lifesaving Station (Preview)

Wood Island Lifesaving Station (Preview)

The Lifesaving Station at Wood Island was used for sea rescue prior to the Coast Guard.

Paddling The Saco

Paddling The Saco

Conway photographer Joe Klementovich uses a paddleboard to explore 130 miles of the Saco.

School at Sea

School at Sea

Students attend school aboard a schooner.

Season 17

Season 17

Join us for an all new season of Windows to the Wild with Willem Lange! Wednesdays at 7:30

A Hike With Friends

A Hike With Friends

Host Willem Lange is with friends on the Tucker Mountain trail in Vermont.

Hiking Back In Time With Tom Ryan

Hiking Back In Time With Tom Ryan

Host Willem Lange is off to Cape Cod w/ Kiki for a hike with bestselling author Tom Ryan.

Winter In The White Mountains

Winter In The White Mountains

Outdoor Afro volunteer leader Mardi Fuller will take viewers on a winter hike.

Hidden Treasures

Hidden Treasures

Jason Berard is the Stewardship Director at the Upper Valley Land Trust.

Hidden Treasures (Preview)

Hidden Treasures (Preview)

Some of New Hampshire's "hidden treasures".

My Hike With Laura Waterman (Preview)

My Hike With Laura Waterman (Preview)

In 1971, Laura Waterman and her husband Guy decided to leave behind a corporate life.

My Hike With Laura Waterman

My Hike With Laura Waterman

In 1971, Laura Waterman and her husband Guy decided to leave behind a corporate life.

High Places

High Places

The skill it takes to climb NH's breath-taking cliff faces.

Outdoor Classroom (Preview)

Outdoor Classroom (Preview)

Outdoor educator Scott Ellis is passionate about connecting people with the outdoors.

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor educator Scott Ellis is passionate about connecting people with the outdoors.

Preserving A Way Of Life

Preserving A Way Of Life

Host Willem Lange visits one of NH's spectacular public properties.

Preserving A Way Of Life (Preview)

Preserving A Way Of Life (Preview)

Host Willem Lange visits one of NH's spectacular public properties.

Memorial Hike

Memorial Hike

Rachael decided not to let their dream die.

Memorial Hike (Preview)

Memorial Hike (Preview)

Rachael decided not to let their dream die.

Build It And They Will Come

Build It And They Will Come

When Marianne Borowski retired, she had a dream to create an adventure trail.

Build It And They Will Come (Preview)

Build It And They Will Come (Preview)

When Marianne Borowski retired, she had a dream to create an adventure trail.

A Trek Through Scotland

A Trek Through Scotland

Host Willem Lange explores the history, culture and natural beauty of Scotland.

A Trek Through Scotland (Preview)

A Trek Through Scotland (Preview)

Host Willem Lange explores the history, culture and natural beauty of Scotland.

Mountain Safety

Mountain Safety

Host Willem Lange spends the day at Pinkham Notch where he learns about staying safe.

Forest Therapy With Dogs (Preview)

Forest Therapy With Dogs (Preview)

Forest Therapy Guide Nadine Mazzola and their dogs.

Forest Therapy With Dogs

Forest Therapy With Dogs

She shows how to have a deep connection with our dogs and nature.

Taking On Mount Washington (Preview)

Taking On Mount Washington (Preview)

Mount Washington is a New England icon that dares people to challenge it.

Taking On Mount Washington

Taking On Mount Washington

Mount Washington is a New England icon that dares people to challenge it.

Classroom On The Connecticut (Preview)

Classroom On The Connecticut (Preview)

Vermont teacher Scott Ellis believes that real learning happens outdoors.



Visit video.nhpbs.org to see even more local and national video.


More to Explore

Bird Tales

Bird Tales

Counting On Birds

Counting On Birds

Journey of the Broad-Winged Hawk

Journey of the Broad-Winged Hawk

Lighthawk: Destination Conservation

Lighthawk: Destination Conservation

Plight of the Grassland Birds

Plight of the Grassland Birds

Saving New England Fisheries

Saving New England Fisheries

Saving Songbirds

Saving Songbirds