This is it, our descent into darkness. I’m not talking about the results of the federal election or the world economic crisis; no, I mean the annual disappearance of daylight as the winter nights grow in length.
It’s always been a matter of hypnotic fascination to me how the days contract and concentrate in the winter like a landscape viewed through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.
I love being the first one to get up in the morning, savouring the rituals of lighting an oil lamp, building up the fire and putting on the kettle for coffee. Sitting in the yellow pool of light as the woodstove crackles to life; I’m often grateful for having exchanged the relative security of town with a job to go to for this life in the woods.
Gone are the mornings of torturing a frozen truck into starting and chopping wood in the darkness under the unsteady beam of a headlamp. Instead, we were able to allow our daily rhythms to adapt to the seasons.
Early winter is defined by bursts of outside activities during the short daylight hours and a state of semi-hibernation at night, when we sleep 10 hours or more. It is a bit of a guilty pleasure to indulge in these weeks of laziness, but the turning back of the clock that happens next weekend will come to our rescue.
Thanks to the time change, we’ll suddenly be up at already 6 a.m. instead of the less dramatic 7 a.m., making us feel virtuous and dynamic like important business people.
The only other relevance the clock has for us is catching some radio shows that we enjoy and making timely phone calls. At least, that’s what it’s like now. During our first year in the bush, finally freed from all the hustle and bustle of normal life, we ironically became utterly enslaved to the clock, especially after the time change in late fall.
That year, our HF radio was our only means of communication with the outside world, and we had arranged a sched time with our friends in town so that anything of vital importance might be passed on to us and vice versa. Every evening at 9 p.m. we’d turn on the radio for 15 minutes, a routine that worked well during the summer.
The first glitch in the system turned out to be that while we did have excellent reception of signals from the southeast Yukon and the Skeena region in BC, we could hardly ever reach anyone in our home community. We thought it might work better in the winter, and that fall Sam tried different set-ups with the antenna — all with the same result: we were effectively incommunicado with our friends. Nonetheless, in an emergency a message could be relayed through the stations we were able to receive.
As fall advanced and daylight vanished, our bedtime crept steadily closer to that 9 p.m. radio schedule time because our eyes grew tired from hours of reading or talking by the kerosene lamp light. And then time change struck. Suddenly, 9 p.m. was only 8 p.m., forcing us to stay up yet another hour for our radio sked. Oh, the agonies we suffered as we valiantly tried to stay awake until what had recently been 10 o’clock, an indecently late hour it seemed.
We usually collapsed into our beds, mouths gaping open in huge yawns, at the new 8 p.m., feebly keeping each other awake by slurred inquiries if it was 9 o’clock yet. The other person would heroically open one eye, peer at the clock and utter the devastating verdict: “no, we have to stay up another 20 minutes.” Sometimes we just set the alarm clock to wake us up at 9 p.m.. It was terrible.
If we had actually been able to talk to our friends on the radio, we would have just changed our sched time, but it seemed too silly to get a cumbersome message relay going over assorted trappers on the Skeena, culminating in a phone call to a friend, just because we couldn’t stay up so “late.”
Thankfully, once we got our satellite internet and telephone system, it put an end to that dismal situation, and we now observe the time change in a rather blasé manner. So bring on the darkness and loss of light, we won’t lose sleep over it any more.
Lisa Hasselbring is a writer who lives at the headwaters of the Yukon River south of Whitehorse.