Winter Sunlight

Anna Silivonchik

Belarusian Illustrator Anna Silivonchik

I just finished reading an article in the New York Times about the record-setting lack of sunlight in Moscow this December. During the entire month, the poor citizens of that city got only six minutes of it, total. Yes, you read that correctly: six minutes. Total. That’s the time it takes to cook a soft-boiled egg. Now divide that by 31 days….

According to the article, the city was “shrouded in an unrelenting cloud cover” which meteorologists blamed on anomalies in cyclone patterns over the Atlantic, combined with warmer than average temperatures. When interviewed on NPR about what that month felt like, reporter Charles Mayne said that the sunlight was “painfully meted out over a number of days….you could enjoy just 30 seconds or so as it came by.”

I have subsequently vowed (on Facebook, if that can be called vowing) to stop my rants about the rain and the short days we suffer through every winter in the Pacific Northwest. The average duration of sunlight in Seattle during the month of December is 52.9 hours; in Moscow, the average drops to 18 hours. I do remember one winter where Seattle had measurable rain for 90 days in a row. That was dismal. But six minutes of sunlight in 31 days? Compared to that, the Northwest is a balmy paradise.

If you follow Books Around the Table, chances are good that you’re a writer or an artist or a creative person of one kind of another. Creative people can be instinctively hermit-like; we can stay at our desks or workshops and lose all track of time. I’m writing about the lack of light today only to encourage all of us (you, Readers, and myself) to go outside and soak up the light this winter whenever we can. Bundle up, put on boots, put on a hat and good mittens, but get outside. Sunlight helps our bodies remember their circadian rhythms; it helps us fight depression.

phoebe wahl

Artwork and Desk/Tools of Illustrator Phoebe Wahl

Sometimes, we need to resist isolation: a nice smile from (or to) passing strangers on a cold but sunlit day can make all the difference in boosting our moods. We can go from dour to cheerful in one walk around the block.  Better yet, we can embark on a ramble, completely unfettered. We can let the light fill us up.

It’s true that hot cocoa, a fire in the woodstove, a cozy chair, and a good book to read are lovely during the winter. No doubt about it. But don’t forget to let the light in (or let yourself out into it) whenever you can. Remember what Thoreau said:

“What fire could ever equal the sunshine of a winter’s day, when the meadow mice  come out by the wallsides, and the chicadee lisps in the defiles of the wood? The warmth comes directly from the sun, and is not radiated from the earth, as in summer; and when we feel his beams on our backs as we are treading some snowy dell, we are grateful as for a special kindness, and bless the sun which has followed us into that by-place.”


Sunshine on the Snow (Replica of Thoreau’s Cabin, Walden Pond)

The reporter I mentioned above, Charles Mayne, said this: ” Well, you know, those six minutes – I mean, I pretty much remember every single one of them. You’d be in the middle of your day, working or meeting a friend. And if you were lucky enough to be either outside or near a window, you know, you’d suddenly feel this kind of shift in your mood, you know, something along the lines of – I think it’s called happiness….”


[In honor of all the snow around the country, I’ve posted a poem for Poetry Friday titled “Winter” by Walter de la Mare. You can read it over at my blog, The Drift Record.]



15 responses to “Winter Sunlight

  1. Deirdre O'Sullivan from Australia

    From one extreme to another – here in Oz, we are sweltering through our usual summer heatwaves of 40 degrees with hideous 95% humidity. Government health authorities are warning people to avoid the sun until the late afternoon and dusk, when the blazing UV rays are less intense. It’s a fine line between soaking up enough vitamin D, and getting skin cancer – a real plague in Australia. Citizens who shrug off these warnings and sunbake, end up with complexions like crocodiles! It’s too damned hot even to eat – I’m living on tubs of peppermint ice cream, and I find myself fantasising about rain, hail and snow! Want to do a house swap?!

    • Oh, Deirdre! That sounds miserable. We have friends in Sydney – I’ll have to send my sympathies to them as well as you.
      Truth be told, my husband and I are headed for three weeks in Guanajuato, Mexico, next week – sweet sunshine without the extreme temperatures/humidity, so we’re solving the gloom that way. I’ll pass on your house swap for now 🙂 Stay as cool as you can!

  2. I love this post so much. xx

  3. It is cold and sunny here in MA today. I will be sure to take a walk! Thank you for the post!

  4. Fantastic post, i feel cosy just thinking about it.

  5. This is beautifully written, and a fantastic reminder for us ‘hermits’… also the illustration by Anna Silivonchik is something incredible. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  6. Rebecca Van Slyke

    Know what else is like sunshine in winter?
    Tea with a friend!
    Shall we?

  7. I would die. Shrivel and die. I need that happiness on a regular basis. But perhaps I don’t appreciate it as much when I have more of it. I will try to walk through the rest of my days, noticing the sunshine. Thank you.

  8. Wise and inspiring words, Julie. And I remember how aware one is of the light in Bellingham. Cheers!

  9. This is so interesting, Julie! Of course you know you are an inspiring source of light yourself . . . 🙂

    • In Spanish, they say, “Igualmente” which basically means “Same to you!” Your blog posts always cheer me up, Jama.

  10. Julie, Sunlight is such a gift, recharger, and spirit lifter. Thanks for sharing your cheery thoughts and gorgeous art choices. Rae

  11. Julie, I have often been lost in time writing and on certain days have missed the opportunity to be outside. After reading your post, I will take more care to balance work time with outside time. I have noticed the effects of sunshine and the lack of it on the moods of others. Thanks.

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