Clear street, snowy trees

I often think of Emily Dickinson and her poem “There’s certain slant of light” on late February afternoons when my to-do list is long and the daylight is short.

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Well trampled

It’s easy to be upbeat and energized on sunny mornings when a fresh coat of snow brightens the ground, covering the scourge of of February gray. But after dinner time–after lunch feels like an eternity ago, the afternoon chores are done, and it’s just me and my bottomless paper-piles–my spirit lags and falters.

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

Snowy steps

People speak of seasonal affective disorder as if it were a monolithic thing, with one’s moods being perpetually in the dumps from December through March. But instead, winter is an oceanic surge with troughs and swells. In the morning, when the sun is low in the sky but glaring bright, all seems possible, but when darkness descends in early afternoon, so do one’s energy and enthusiasm wane and ebb.

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

Sidestreet

Emily Dickinson knew all this; I imagine her as a raw nerve cloaked in drab, her emotional barometer ever attuned to the psychic energy of the cosmos. Faith came easily on sunny summer days when all Dickinson needed was a clover, bee, and reverie. But on winter afternoons, her mood dipped toward doom.

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ’tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

I’ve lived long enough in New England to know that winter always ends–the days eventually lengthen, and both warmth and greenery return. But it’s easy to forget that truth on a late February afternoon when the world outside is cold and dark and one’s to-do list is long.

Enchanted ice

December in New England is a somber time, with long nights and dark days. Yesterday we had our first (sludgy) snow, and today the sidewalks were treacherous underfoot: a small reminder of last winter’s travails.

Christmas tree at Angell

For years I spent so much energy focused on my then-husband’s seasonal affective disorder, I didn’t notice how my own moods track with the season’s sun. Fall semester begins in a riot of light and color and ends in gloom, and Spring semester operates in reverse: what begins in snow eventually blossoms into spring.

Late December offers a welcome chance to rest, reflect, and recharge: during these waning days of a late year we curl inward, marshaling our energy and holding out hope for brighter times. It’s ironic that the New Year and its new resolve comes right when the days are darkest and our hopes are (perhaps) at their nadir. Only when a seed has been crushed and buried can it send forth a feeble stalk of light-seeking green.

Christmas tree and Custom House clock-tower

These days it gets dark in New England by 5 pm, and I find myself cherishing every bit of brightness. When I lived in Keene, I’d leave my porch light on when I left for campus so I wouldn’t have to come home to a dark house, and when I moved to Newton but continued teaching in Keene, I’d spend much of my evening commute looking for houses with Christmas lights, candles in the windows, or lit porch lights: spots of cheering brightness on a long, dark drive home.

Christmas tree with Black Friday shoppers

December is a festive time for some but a gloomy time for others. For years I lived with someone who suffered severe seasonal affective disorder, so the period between November and March was volatile, with spells of despair interrupted by anger and upheaval. When I see lit Christmas lights, my inner eight-year-old relishes the brightness and sparkle…but my adult self remembers the loneliness and despair the season brings for far too many. When I see a lit Christmas tree, part of me hopes that at least one lost soul might see it as a beacon of hope in a dark time: a light left on to guide each one of us home to a place both festive and warm.

This is my final, Day Thirty contribution to NaBloPoMo, or National Blog Posting Month, a commitment to post every day during the month of November: thirty days, thirty posts.