Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Days They Be a Marching

Depressed by winter days? Days too short. Dark too soon? I have good news for you. Perhaps you already know this, but in the depressed state of your mind you may need a reminder.

The winter solstice is nearly upon us. In a bit over a week, on December 21, the sunny part of our days will stop getting shorter and will begin getting longer. At first you won't notice it, because the change is only minutes a day. But arriving at the solstice means we have stopped sliding into short days.

I don't know about you, but that lifts my spirits. I don't like dark days. And I don't like cold.

Perhaps my dislike of cold wintry days (and I don't seem to be alone in this) is because I've lived in some mighty cold houses in my years. Keeping a house warm is expensive. If you crank up the thermostat you also crank up the bills. There was a time when my budget cringed when the utility bill arrived and so I was ever careful to be conserving of the heat.

In my childhood we lived in an old farmhouse, which if I remember correctly was built in 1929. They didn't do much for insulation in those days. I think the plaster lathe construction was supposed to be THE insulation. Every fall Dad would take off the wood-framed screens and replace them with storm windows. There were some windows that didn't have storms, so he purchased a heavy plastic from the hardware store and placed it over those windows, securing it in place with strips of lathe tacked into place.

A combination gas-wood range heated the kitchen. My brothers hauled bushel baskets of corn cobs and wood to keep the stove burning. We knew how to efficiently start a fire in that stove...crumple some paper, lay on some cobs, light a match. When the cobs began burning good, lay on a couple sticks of wood. It was a warm spot by the kitchen stove.

In the dining room was a two-burner oil stove which fed off an oil barrel sitting beside the house. The cobs and wood were free but the oil was purchased. That meant it was "rationed" if you will. Overnight the burners were turned down so low that only a blue tip of flame indicated the burner was still functioning. By morning the house was well chilled. I guess that says it was well chilled. Doggone cold.

The water pipes were always in danger of freezing. We would leave faucets dripping, hoping the ground warmth of the water from the well would flow enough to keep the water from freezing. But every winter Dad crawled under the house with kerosene lamps and his blowtorch to thaw frozen pipes. The foundation of that house was brick which meant old broken mortar created holes for the north wind to whistle through on its way to wrapping itself around copper pipes. Dad used heat tapes which he kept plugged in with long extension cords. And he piled dirt up around the foundation and sometimes bales of hay. But it seemed every winter was cold work for him.

I later lived in similar homes. Any forecast of below zero temps meant fears in the middle of the night that one would wake up with frozen pipes or some other cold disaster.

I guess that's why I dislike cold. It portends disaster. Think about it. How many times have you read of a major storm putting thousands of homes in the dark. No power. No electricity means Nothing Works! Everything in the house runs on electricity. Even the fan on the natural gas furnace.

You know, I can't imagine how terrible winter must have been for our ancestors who homesteaded this part of the country, living in dugouts or simple frame homes. Nor how difficult it must have been for the Native Americans. Nor, for that matter, for anyone who lived more than a couple hundred years ago. How in the world did they endure?

But back to the solstice. On December 21 the daylight hours will stop getting shorter. Each day thereafter we (those of us in the Northern Hemisphere) will have a few more minutes of daylight. We will have ended the downward spiral and begun the upward march towards spring. Even though there will yet be many winter storms before we actually arrive.

And so while the best day of December for me is the day we celebrate the Incarnation of Christ, I also breathe a sigh of relief on December 21 when I know the earth's journey has shifted once again towards spring.



Karen said...

I liked your post! I can still remember my dad saying these words to me (when I was a child) at around this time of year, when the days were short and darkness came too soon, "Just think, Karen, that on December 21st, the days will start to get LONGER again!" Thanks for the reminder, that spring's not too far off!

Laurie M. said...

I feel the same about the winter and the solstice, even though our winters in No. Cal are much milder than yours. They are not nearly as mild, though,as the ones I grew up with 500 miles to the south. Every winter here we suffer at least one major power outage due to wind storms and falling tree limbs. At those times I'm thankful for our gas wall heaters and stove burners. We, too, have to concern ourselves with frozen pipes, but not to the extent your father did. It's not cold enough under the house usually. It's just exterior pipes for outdoor faucets that tend to give us trouble.

Thanks for the cheery reminder. We begin our climb out of the dark pit very shortly.

elaine @ peace for the journey said...

A good fit with my spirit this night; I live in one of those 1929 houses with no insulation in the walls; not my choice. A parsonage that seems to be more common than not! I've lived in some cold houses as well, but I don't mind the season so much. It's a time of stripping down for me in my spirit, and quite honestly, I welcome the diversion.

I do, however, like the idea of a gradual lengthening of daylight. It's all very poetic and beautiful to me.

On another note, have you read Alicia Chole's "anonymous"? Something about this reminds me of it.


Kelly said...

I'm a warm weather girl myself.

For us, losing power (which can be a year round occurance due to storms), also means losing water since we're on our own waterwell with an electric pump. My kids grew up knowing that no power meant there was only one flush left in the pot.

Debby said...

This post was a reminder to me...hard times have a beginning. Hard times have an end. Time marches on.

Back to my Christmas cookies.

Daria said...

We've recently had some bitterly cold weather here and I was thinking back to when my poor father worked on the farm in bitterly cold conditions ... trying to raise a family ... those were tough days.

Today, we are so fortunate to have what we have.