December 21, 2015


Knowing the sun is returning and the days are getting longer really brightens my heart. It gives me hope that the world is still revolving—and evolving--toward a brighter future. 

They lengthen incrementally: minute-by-minute. Here, curled up in my cozy apartment, I don’t notice the changes at first. Back when Martha and I were running on the Umpqua Community College track after work, they were really noticeable. The track is high above the river, and we always ran at the same time. Each day we’d trudge up the hill in increasing light. I loved that.

Another surprise in city living is never seeing stars. Back when I was a camp counselor in Vermont, we had our cots just outside the tents that housed our charges. Sleeping under the stars that summer was a revelation. It made me feel so small in relationship to the entire universe above me. The stars were so bright I rarely needed a flashlight to go down the path to the bathrooms. That was where I saw my first Northern lights.

A long time later, when we lived in the country just outside the Chicago suburbs, my husband and I liked to take a nightly walk down the driveway to chat away from  our children’s ears. It was a quiet time to talk. There were no streetlights around, and our background was the sky with the various configurations of stars. It was easy to think of the long ago shepherds who whiled away their nights seeing and sharing pictures and patterns in the skies. Of course they were the first to become aware of a new star blazing in an unexpected spot in the sky!

One August night, we went for our nightly stroll and the sky was bright--but there were no stars to see. A large shopping center had opened about ten miles away, and had turned on all their lights at full force to celebrate. The mall illuminated the entire sky. We were not happy about the encroaching city, but I had never realized it would take away my stars! Now I read that one of the big draws in our national parks is night camping, with rangers showing and explaining the stars to those who have never seen them. Imagine growing up without that sense of immensity around you!

The city lights from my window are beautiful. The sidewalk trees are wrapped in twinkling white lights. There’s a Christmas tree on top of one building with a red blinking light on top. The Moda center glows in various colors, depending on what’s going on inside. The towers on the new Tillicum Bridge, somehow activated by water height and speed and temperature, are a beautiful shade of green now and look like giant Christmas trees. And the river reflects all the lights, adding to the ambiance.  I’m very lucky—but I miss walking under the stars, and having the moon shine in my bedroom window. Still, the long nights are still lit…and companionable when I wake up in the middle of the night.

But they don’t make up for dusky evenings sitting on my balcony and watching sailboats and kayaks, people and  dogs.  Or the delight of waking up early in the morning and having the sun—not electricity-lighting the city. The light makes the future seem full of possibilities. We cower and cringe in the darkness, keeping tightly to ourselves and fearing strangers and dark looming things. In the daylight we find the strangers can be friends and the dangers were mostly shadows. We can cope.

So bring on the solstice! Brighten up the days. And a happy New Year to all.