The Magic of the Solstice

It’s after 9 AM and I can still see the pinks and corals of sunrise outside the window of my North Carolina home. I’m not much of a morning person, so if I see the colors of the dawn it is not by choice, except maybe in late December. That is when the physics of living on a tilted planet combines with the sheer wonder of the heavens to create the mid-morning magic of the winter solstice.

sunsetI’m told by friends who are morning people that sunrises have been happening a little later each day for awhile now, pretty much since last June in fact, and they’ve been movingly steadily southward as well. Sunsets, which I love to observe with a glass of wine in hand, have been happening earlier and moving southward too. Best of all, they both occur more slowly as the sun appears to glide to the earth at ever more of an angle, giving us dusks and dawns that go on and on.

The noon sun sits lower in the southern sky this time of year too. Shorter days combine with the increased atmosphere that the sun’s rays have to travel through to get to us to yield the cold temperatures and snow we call winter.

You already know that the further north you are the more extreme this is. In Reykjavik the winter solstice sun will rise about 11:30 in the morning and set about 3:30 in the afternoon, giving those in Iceland a four hour day. Paris will have over eight hours of solstice daylight, while the day in Mexico City will last eleven hours.

Of course, the southern hemisphere is enjoying the long days of summer right now. Morning people in Cape Town will get to watch a 5:30 AM sunrise on our winter solstice, and South Africans who like to watch the sunset with a glass of wine, like I do, will be doing so at 8 PM.

What about folks who live above the arctic circle? The sun set on the ten thousand or so residents of Hammerfest Norway at about noon on November 21, and it will rise again on January 21, creeping barely above the horizon for about an hour of noontime sunrise that will turn into straight into a sunset, with the light of the dusk lingering long after the sun is gone. Needless to say, the event will be greeted with celebrations.

greenlandQaanaaq Greenland has one of the longest polar nights of any town, with sunset occurring in late October and the sun first breaking back above the horizon in mid- February. The seven hundred or so residents of Qaanaaq use dogsleds to get around during the long winter night, and celebrate the return of the sun with family gatherings, songs, coffee and cakes.

What about folks who live almost on the equator? Their days do vary slightly, but no one there probably notices. The day in Quito is pretty much twelve hours long all year, give or take a few minutes, and because of the relatively high angle of the sun, the city has some of the fastest sunrises and sunsets on the planet.

You probably can tell that I’m fascinated by the seasons, just as I’m fascinated by pretty much everything else about our amazing planet. If you find such things interesting, check out a wonderful site called Time and Date where you can get a wide variety of information about observing the heavens from various places here on earth. I used the website as I wrote d4, researching the movement of the sun in both Greenland and Iceland as it affected my characters and my story.

Those of you who are sticklers for details might have noticed that the earliest sunset and latest sunrises don’t happen exactly on the solstices. The best explanation I’ve seen for this (and for much else involving the sun’s behavior) can be found in an article in The Telegraph from the UK entitled Winter solstice 2015: Everything you need to know about the shortest day of the year.

solsticeAlthough the winter and summer solstices are physical events dictated by the fact that our planet is tilted about twenty-three degrees off of the plane in which it rotates around the sun, I find both a mathematical beauty and a sense of wonder in the day. It is a point of pause, a time when motion in one direction halts, we breath, and then motion in another direction begins. It is the time when darkness has its longest reach, only to begin its retreat in a dance step that will be echoed by the light six months later.

Many religions celebrate the winter solstice outright; most others have placed a holiday involving lights somewhere around the darkest day of the year. I believe that we humans feel the significance of the day somewhere deep within, and we yearn to acknowledge it.

Finally, one might easily consider the first day the sunlight grows to be the true start of a new year. For even though the coldest temperatures and worst winter storms are yet to come, the cause for the coming spring and summer has begun.

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Simply Following Rivers

Likke Li 2I’m still replaying and enjoying the YouTube live performances I linked to in the new Smashwords edition of my new novel d4. I sought and found a clip of each my main character Ariel’s nine favorite songs that I believed captured some of the personality of the artist as well as their wonderful music.  Eight of the nine videos were from concert performances from around the globe.

For for Lykke Li’s  “I follow Rivers”, however, I discovered a wonderful German site called ZeitOnline. Among many other things, they offer these simple performances by the artist in an ordinary setting. I’ve fallen in love with their style. It is extra fun that my main character’s full name is Ariel Zeitman. Weird or what? Check out this totally unpretentious version of “I Follow Rivers” performed with only a lone guitar, a hand held percussion instrument, and a fellow singer who claps along to keep time.  Can  you imagine running into this group performing on the sidewalk? An excerpt from the book d4 is below to show how the song appears in the story.

From d4:

“I wish I understood precollections better,” Ariel said. “When I’m touching you I see lives from the far future, and when I’m near you and touch things that you touch, I get some precollections about you. There’s never been anything about Mikkel, though. The truth is that I know very little about the man and even less about what motivates him. Do you want me to try to find out more?”

“No!” It came out a little harsher than Siarnaq had intended. “I want you to stay as far away from him as possible. Please. Promise me.”

“Hey, you do understand that I have to deal with him for work right?” Ariel’s tone was heavier than she meant it to be, filled with shades of “don’t tell me what to do.” She reminded herself that Siarnaq was only being concerned. “I’ll stay out of the mess between the two of you, though, no problem.”

“Thanks,” Siarnaq said no more.

“Let’s stay in touch about this,” Ariel finally added, working to soften her voice. “Call, text, email, I know that you do all of those. I’ll keep my ears open and if I learn anything about Mikkel that could be useful to you, I promise I’ll let you know.”

Ariel felt sadder than she expected she would when she hugged Siarnaq goodbye, and once she was on the plane she found herself gazing at Greenland’s white coastline as it receded in the distance. Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers” came on as she hit the “On” button on her mp3 player, and Ariel wondered idly if she could possibly enjoy life as an Inuit. Was she capable of following Siarnaq? Was she capable of following anyone? As the song ended, Greenland was nothing more than a tiny white dot on her horizon and she had no answers.

With the second song of each book, I pick up on the intensity of the theme a little more. Click on to read about x0’s “We are the World“, y1’s “Party Like it’s 1999“, z2’s “Only the Strong Survive“, and c3’s “Heads Carolina”.

You can get d4 on smashwords here for only ninety-nine cents.

I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland.

I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland. Maybe it is because of how I enjoyed my short time in Canada’s Arctic years ago. Maybe it’s because of Greenland’s renowned rock formations, or the fact that giant islands fascinate me. Or maybe it is because I am intrigued by map projections and no place in the world is more distorted on a flat map. It could be something that simple, I think.

northern-lights-02

See beautiful photos of the northern lights here

Whatever the reason, there was no doubt that one of my books would involve Greenland. Luckily I live in a time where I can watch endless video clips and pursue countless photos online while reading accounts of those lucky enough to there go in person. It’s not the same, of course, but you take what you can get. I spent a good bit of time at greenland.com/en/about-greenland planning imaginary vacations to the far north, so when it came time to choose links for the novel, I was happy to give my readers this nudge to visit Greenland’s tourist website.

“So you want me to drop this idea of taking out our clients most influential direct reports?”

“Not at all,” Eoin chuckled. “Up to now I’ve been content to let my client’s private business stay private, but I have to admit that your curiosity is starting to rub off. I want you to plan a vacation to Nuuk. It’s a town of sixteen-thousand, for heaven’s sake, so you ought to be able to find out where in Nuuk Mikkel keeps his people. Don’t be too obvious. Go see the northern lights and ride a dog sled before winter ends. You need to get more acquainted with the north anyway.”

Then, as she looked at him puzzled, he added. “You’ve got a nice direct way about you. You’re not threatening. Go meet the lady that runs the answering service. I bet you can come back from Nuuk knowing more about Mikkel Nygaard than anyone here does now, and I promise that I won’t ask questions about your expense account next month.”

As Eoin turned and left, Ronan gave a little whistle. “Wow. No questions about your expense account for a whole month?”

Fergus added. “I’ve always wanted to go to Greenland.”

“It’s February,” Ariel muttered back. “I bet you wanted to go in July.”