Short Days and Long Nights: The Accounts Are Now Balanced

In our latitude we know that each year brings the time when not only the candle but the hearth fire must burn at both ends of the day, symbol not of waste but of warmth and comfort. It is for this time, if we live close to the land, that we lay up the firewood and the fodder. Now we pay for the long days of Summer, pay in the simple currency of daylight.  Hour for hour, the accounts are now balanced.”
~Hal Borland, This Hill, This Valley

In Maine, in December, the accounts are certainly balanced when it comes to daylight. By 4:30 p.m., it is fairly dark. By 5:30 p.m., it is as dark as midnight. This is the time of year when we hurry to take the dog for his afternoon walk—no later than 3:00 p.m.

But as Hal Borland points out in his beautifully written This Hill, This Valley, “[T]he short days provide their own bonus. The snows come, and dusk and dawn are like no other time of the year.”

At the little house in the big woods, all is cozy when night falls by late afternoon. The wood furnace is going, and there is no more comfortable heat than wood heat. Although we have back-up, wood is our primary source of heat. It is indeed a lot of work to stack and haul wood, but Clif, who does all of the stacking and hauling, thinks it is more than worthwhile. So do I. Wood heat would not be sustainable everywhere, but in Maine, with its small population of about one million, it is still possible to harvest wood for heating and not destroy the forests.

Around 4:00, we start pulling down the shades. I put on the kettle to boil, and soon we are settled on the couch for tea and snack. Often, I read The New Yorker, and Clif reads on his tablet. The dog nestles beside me, and he hopes he will get an occasional treat.  Need I write that Liam is seldom disappointed?

It takes a while for us to get into this comfortable rhythm. At first, when the time changes, and the days are ever so short, we are restless. Night seems too long. But gradually, we ease into the short days and long nights. While we will not be sorry to see spring, with its longer, warmer days, we also appreciate the time to slow down, to read, to take stock.

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4 p.m. at the little house in the big woods
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13 thoughts on “Short Days and Long Nights: The Accounts Are Now Balanced”

  1. This time of the year is so snug and homey. We’re pitch black by 5 here too but a bit lighter than you are at 4. That is when I’m running out for a last call with the dogs, lol

  2. This is our first winter and Maine and I wasn’t sure what to expect given the dire warnings and eye-rolling about last winter. Of course it’s been a mild year so far, but we are thoroughly enjoying the cozy evenings with the (fake, battery-powered) candles in the windows and the wood stove cranking out the heat. Very, very sweet. And, in contrast with our last home in Anchorage, with long stretches of gloomy clouds, the sun is never absent for more than a few days here. It makes such a difference to have sunshine on the shortest winter days. Bring on Solstice!

    1. Since you have moved from Alaska, I doubt there is anything about even the severest Maine winter that will bother you. And, yes, there are many bright, beautiful days in Maine in the winter. The light is just incredible. Anyway, welcome, welcome to Maine.

  3. Sounds like my life, too. It takes a while to settle into it, but it is nice to nest and cozy down. I was just thinking yesterday how lucky we are to live with an abundance of hardwood. Most of my neighbors burn wood, yet there are more forests than when I was a kid, a welcome abundance!

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