It hasn’t seemed like winter this December; more like a mild November with moody skies, soaking rains and even a few thunderstorms. What little snow fell, melted into the unfrozen ground. But the sun tells the truth as it rides low on the southern horizon. I always look at winter solstice (10:48 p.m. CST on December 21) as a milestone achieved: We’ve reached the time of peak darkness for the winter. And happily, though sunrise is still getting later, sunset began to lengthen on December 10th! We celebrate solstice with extra candles on the dinner table, a glass of wine, and Celtic Christmas music.
I look for the understated, sometimes harsh beauty of winter, and I like the extra hours of moon-watching. Yet, I impatiently wait for the seeds, bulbs, perennials and tiny creatures that rest in the dark earth to reawaken. In the meantime, I will try to appreciate the slate skies and spent plants that add their own stark loveliness to the winter months.
The mid-December moon is often visible during the day.
Joe-Pye weed (Eutrochium dubium) seedheads.
Flame grass (Miscanthus sinensis ‘purpurascens’) seed heads and leaves.
Fluffy, soft goldenrod (Solidago) seeds.
A few seeds still cling to the soft, empty cup of a milkweed pod (Aesclepias syriaca).
The winter sky is moody and ever-changing even in the city. The rising sun glows a warm orange on trees and buildings that belies the steely cold air.
The sky grows to a brilliant blue, then often softens to dove gray — especially in early winter when clouds quickly blanket the blue, sputter snowflakes, or spin a squall before moving out.
Winter sunsets fire the horizon unlike any other time of year. As the sun sinks lower, light streams through our southwest windows flooding the rooms with deep golden rays. I love that last burst of gentle, bright warmth and, for a few moments, I work in those rooms when possible — perhaps to write, catch up on paperwork, or even fold a basket of laundry. Soon afterward, broad strokes of rose illuminate the west, then slowly die down to pink embers.
Many evenings, in the final glow of twilight a silvery moon brightens against a pale, fading sky.