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.

Amazing Sprawl

I believe that one telling characteristic of a person is the music they enjoy. So how could I not feel the same way about my characters? I think about how Ariel likes popular indie music, usually by female artists, just like I think about how she likes sushi and yoga and the color blue.  For me, this is part of the process of getting to know her.

With the help of a young woman with musical tastes similar to Ariel’s, I was able to put together my character’s own distinctive list of favorite songs, many of which are woven into her story. When my books appear on Kindle, I  link the song title in my text to the chance to purchase it on Amazon.

My other electronic versions are distributed through Smashwords where no such link is allowed. I’ve tried various other approaches with my other books, but with d4 I’ve finally found the approach I like best. For every song, I’ve found a live performance that I think shows a little of a the personality of the singer and the band. I’ll admit that I’ve had a lot of fun seeking these out. Often the quality of the video isn’t as good as the more glossy clips, but I’ve picked each one for a reason.

In the case of Arcade Fire, I had the great good fortune to see them perform at the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion outside of Houston in April 2014. The entire concert was amazing, but the performance of Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains), with so many talented musicians on stage all singing in harmony and playing more varied instruments than I had ever seen used for one song, well, it was was one of my most incredible concert experiences.

I knew then that this song would find its way into d4, and that I would find a clip from the show I had seen, or a performance very close to it.  Well, I never found the video from the Woodlands concert, but this one from their performance at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival two months later could have been it. Enjoy!

Here’s a short excerpt from Chapter 15 of d4, where Sprawl II is mentioned.

Ariel both reasoned and premembered that the less time she spent in Iceland the better. It was a real shame, because the country itself was gorgeous and the people outside of Baldur’s boardroom were friendly and welcoming. She’d turned on her music so she wouldn’t have to make conversation, and she had to smile when one of her favorite songs began to play. Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II” was a melodic worry about endless strip malls covering the earth, and the beauty of the scenery she was driving past could not have been a better antidote to those concerns. Ariel turned up the volume, put her phone away and simply enjoyed the views for the rest of the trip.

Once they arrived, they were met by their assigned host and taken to an ultramodern lounge where they could shower privately and change into swimwear. Ariel studied the famous murky turquoise water as they walked, and the combination of all the shades of blue and green in the mist created a feeling of wonder unlike anywhere she had ever been. She marveled at the many small geysers that shot into the air and at the sheer size of the stunning lagoon.

She’d already been told that there would be a catered lunch, time to relax in the healing waters, individual massages and skin treatments, and more spa time before the group headed to what was certain to be a lavish dinner. Under other circumstances, this could have easily been the best day at work ever.

You can buy Arcade Fire’s “Sprawl II” at amazon.com. You can also buy all of d4 for Kindle for only ninety-nine cents.

A slow sunrise in Reykjavik

I love to read and to research, and all my novels have begun by my devouring fact and fiction on subject matters that interest me. I am grateful for the internet sources that helped me write d4. My research included far more sites than would be practical to link to in a novel so I chose a couple dozen that I thought would most enhance the reader’s experience. The first of the links I chose is given below along with enough of an excerpt from the book d4 to provide context. I hope you find this as beautiful as I did.

See a slow sunrise in Reykjavik at panoramio.com/photo/61495573.

Photo by Clavius_Rork

Photo by Clavius_Rork

Chapter 4.

Baldur Hákonarson was the first of the clients to make time to meet Ariel, his new personal support engineer from Ullow. At least Ariel assumed that he had made time, because his executive assistant had sent Eoin a calendar invite for Ariel to present an update to his board of directors a week after she started. Eoin accepted and cc’d Ariel. So that was how this was going to work.

The company bought her a ticket to Reykjavik, and Eoin showed her where to find the last presentation that had been given, and suggested she start editing it immediately. He needed time to review and approve it before she left. Ariel poked around the specs in the contract and made a few cursory visits to the tech people before she began to carefully craft her message of progress. It was lucky that delivering technical content in an understandable format was something she did well.

A week later she arrived in Reykjavik at 10 a.m. to a night sky adorned with a faint glimmer of dull grey light in the south. She was met by a limo driver, and by 11 a.m. she was setting up her presentation in front of three very well dressed older businessmen and one older woman in a suit that showed her to be of equal stature. The small boardroom was on the top floor of an extremely modern office building, and a beautiful, slow, low-angle sunrise was now erupting through the glass windows off to the south.