Outdoor Diary: What I’ve Learned from the Darkness and Solstice

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Outdoor Diary episode 261 Humans Outside

December 21 marks the winter solstice — the official first day of winter and the shortest day of the year with the least time between sunrise and sunset. In Alaska and other places far north, the lack of light is noticeable from both a physical and emotional perspective. But the darkness can bring lessons of light. In this episode Amy lays out what the solstice and its darkness has taught her. Listen now.

Some of the good stuff:

[:45] Once upon a time, what is solstice?

[1:15] What I learned about solstice after we moved to Alaska

[1:50] 3 things solstice means to now

[2:00] A reminder to fight

[2:57] All light matters

[3:40] The light of people

[4:39] The real lesson of solstice

Connect with this episode:

Listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.

The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.

I’m sure I had heard of the winter and summer solstices before I moved to Alaska in 2016. But it was like you hear about something in passing, or see it on a calendar. It meant nothing. Maybe “first day or winter” or “first day of summer,” which are marked by the solstices, meant something. I knew about those things.

But here in Alaska that first day business seems like fake news. It’s definitely been winter for awhile. And by the time summer solstice rolls around, we know a major chunk of what feels like summer is over.

But until me moved here, solstice as an event, as the marking of how long the sun spends in the sky, as an emotional experience, as an physical event, as soul food for someone who loves to spend time outside — well, I just didn’t know about that.

Today Solstice has meaning. And every winter that we spend here it gains more meaning and takes on more richness. It is a celebration of the actual light of the sun. It is a celebration of the importance of light in our lives.

So I want to share with you three things that the physical darkness and the marking of solstice means to me right now –things that have been taught me by my connection spending time outside with the light and in the darkness of winter.

Solstice, I’ve learned, is a reminder of the importance of fighting. Each December I start to feel a little sad and a little slow. At some point I find myself thinking that I’m just going to let it happen and be OK with it keeping me down. I start thinking that I don’t really care that much about things I definitely care about but that take work — my relationships, my fitness, succeeding at any given project I’ve worked hard on, even keeping this podcast going.

And then at some point in there I realize that what is happening is the darkness is tricking me, once again. And instead I have to fight. I have to remember that the darkness is something to move through until I can find the light and optimism on the other side. And solstice is a reminder that the light does come, that it will come and that the world will start feeling so dark and heavy. There is light – hope, really – on the other side.

The darkness has taught me that all light matters. In the deepest, darkest days there is only about 5.5 hours between sunrise and sunset here. But that is not all the light we see. Because before the sun has risen and after it has set, the ambient light lingers before the darkness really sets in. And that light matters.

And the same is true about the light of hope, the light of friendships, the light of faith, the light of family and the light of community in these physically dark times. Each glimmer of love and light shines into the darkness, spreading its life like a beam. Just like every flicker from every headlamp on a dark trail is a noticeable signal, the light of hope shines into the dark. I don’t think I’d ever appreciate that the way I do today without the lessons of winter and the solstice.

And I’ve learned the true light of people and community during the months of dark. When they someone lights up the room, or that people are a light on a hill, or that someone’s smile shines, they are talking about the physical manifestation of a spirit. And maybe those phrases have always simply been analogies to you.

But I am here to tell you, coming in from the actual darkness of the north, that those things really are true. People DO carry light in those ways. And I know that because I’ve seen it and felt it. We often associate darkness with cold and light with warmth. And I can tell you without a shadow of a doubt, that the light these people around me, the people I’ve met through this podcast, you listening and the people I know here in my community IS a light of warmth. It holds me when the darkness is overpowering and pushes me to keep going when I want to stop and hide.

Because here is the real, overarching lesson of solstice: we celebrate the light because we have grown to appreciate it through its absence. But without darkness to show us, we would never know that light existed at all. We would never understand its power. We would never value its existence. The darkness brings gratitude for the light, and solstice is a chance to celebrate and understand that experience.

While you might live somewhere much less dark than where I am, I hope you have a chance to pause and feel gratitude for the light around you — the physically light of the sun, the emotional light of friends and community and the strength you have inside you to fight and to endure.

May you always find the light, my friends.

You can see photos of me chasing light here in Alaska on Humans Outside on Facebook and Instagram. And please share your photos with me too. Tag me with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.

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