“ The strongest trees are rooted in the dark places of the Earth. Darkness will be your cloak, your shield, your mother’s milk. Darkness will make you strong.”
– George R. R. Martin
Today is the Winter Solstice. It has always been a day of deep reflection and celebration for me. The day where sunrise and sunset are closest together. After living in remote, northern Alaska, 350 miles inside the Arctic Circle, my perspective on darkness has changed.
Until a few years ago, I was afraid of the dark, especially when hiking in the forest. As soon as the late afternoon shadows began to settle in, I would panic. My breath became shallow and my pace would quicken to insure I would reach the trailhead before it even remotely became dark. Darkness changes our perspective.
Living deep within the Arctic Circle, I have gained a real sense of place and position on this planet. It is humbling. I have experienced the hours of daily sunlight decrease rapidly since my arrival October 31st. In the days leading up to the polar night, the 24 hours of darkness from November 22 to January 19, I was excited and a little anxious. It is a phenomenon that only those living closest to the ends of the Earth experience. As the sun struggled to make its appearance over the horizon, I realized that the daily celestial cycle of sunrise and sunset, an event that that most people take for granted and perhaps never ponder, was not going to materialize for 65 days, here in Wainwright, AK. As I watched the last bit of pink light drain from the sky, on November 21st, I experienced the familiar fear of the dark. Darkness changes our perspective.
In the Plant Kingdom, light is a necessity. Plants use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water to manufacture oxygen and food in the form of a sugar, glucose. This series of chemical reactions takes place in the leaves of the plant specifically in structures called chloroplasts. However, most plants begin their life in darkness. In the darkness of the Earth’s soil, protected and nourished by the seed, the tender, young plant grounds itself with its roots. It slowly pushes through the darkness to spread its leaves to the light and in using the Sun’s energy, begins to grow, bountiful first in flowers and then in fruit. Plants use the warmth and the darkness of the soil to rest, awaiting optimal conditions for germination and growth. Moreover, many species of plants are night-bloomers, unfolding their beautiful, fragrant flowers in the dark of night to attract nocturnal pollinators.
Many of the flowers of the night blooming species are short-lived, but intoxicatingly fragrant. The Berlandiera berata, the Chocolate Daisy releases a sweet chocolate scent. Gardenia, Tuberose, and Night-Blooming Jasmine are known for their aromatic fragrance often coveted in perfumes. The Casa Blanca Lily is a favorite choice for bridal bouquets because of its white color and intensely fragrant blooms. Spinning open like a pinwheel, the Evening Primrose blossoms at dusk to attract bees. Datura wrightii, the Moonflower, probably the most familiar night-blooming species, attracts moths with its glowing, nocturnal flowers. The Queen of the Night cactus, appropriately named, as it only blooms every one or two years, produces several large flowers that unfold on a single night. These species come alive in the dark.
There is beauty in darkness. It brings quiet rest, solitude, and time to dream. It gifts us the opportunity to change our perspective. By enveloping ourselves in darkness, we can cultivate our ideas, germinate our creativity, and grow our fortitude and courage. We transform ourselves from mediocrity to greatness, unconsciousness to spiritual awakening, and meaninglessness to purpose. As the veil of darkness is lifted, we return to aliveness as brave, determined, sovereign beings of light.
These photos were taken during the period of the polar night. Oh that Sun, she was so close..a reminder that even in what seems our darkest, there is always a little light.