Year after year, with the arrival of the solstice, I always feel a deep-seated disappointment at the fact that, come morning, the pendulum will begin to fall back in the other direction. There’s something about the inherent extremity of the solstice that attracts me in the weeks preceding, but the day itself is over far too quickly for me and I begin to lament its passing before its even out. This happens to me in the summer as well, but it bites more in December, when I get it into my head that the lengthening of the days must mean that it will no longer be cold, that the weather will no longer be severe and unreliable.
But the solstice marks the first day of winter, and year after year, come the January snow, I wonder how it is that I seem to remain so consistently ignorant of that fact. It’s the first day of winter!
I guess that growing up, the first snow often fell on Halloween – actually on the day itself. I spent so many years squeezed into my trademark pumpkin costume, gazing expectantly at the sky while I dragged my pops around the neighbourhood for candy, and I wasn’t often disappointed. But the snow falls here in January instead and I always feel surprised, almost as if it shouldn’t be falling at all if it can’t be bothered to start doing so in October. But 52 and a half weeks ago, I was descending into Ambleside from Loughrigg Fell with Harley, patting off a thick layer of snow from the top of his hood before we retired into the jam-packed Apple Pie Eating House; and two years ago, I was climbing into the Lakeside mountains with my then-girlfriend, collapsing into the fresh powder when we got to the top; and today, I stared out at the dark gray that hugged the horizon to the West and bled out into the pure white sky above me, and I knew that it’d come. And no sooner had I even formed that thought in my head than it did.
The lower Northwest – Lancashire, Manchester, coastal Merseyside, Cheshire even; the places that I lived and roamed – usually experiences the January snow in the form of a dismal sleet (hence, I suppose, my winter trips into the Lake District.) But this is my first winter in Scotland and it’s been falling properly for hours now, occasionally as a flurry, now heavier, burying the grit that was preemptively laid out by the council yesterday evening.
It’s no secret that I love the snow. I love the harsh Arctic wind that rattles against my windows and threatens to throw me into the Forth as I cycle over the old city bridge. I love sub-zeroes, and I know that when the clouds clear tonight, the temperatures will plummet, and tomorrow will be fresh. And I can’t wait.
On December 21, the sun was up for six hours and fifty-five minutes in central Scotland. It didn’t seem like a satisfactory number to me, and I longed to be somewhere where it was six hours and four minutes, or four hours and nineteen minutes. Or somewhere that won’t even see twilight until mid-March. But the solstice is arbitrary to the jet stream, to conflicting air masses from the Arctic and the Continent, to the Atlantic currents. Winter comes regardless, and thank goodness.