NATURE RAMBLINGS: Turning towards the sun

PHOTO BY MATT BARTMANN When the days get longer, chickadees arrive earlier and stay later at the feeder.

Sally Roth

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We’re almost at my favorite day of the year!

No, not Christmas, although I do love Christmas. So much so, that some friends tend to greet me with muttered grrrs when I go into full Christmas mode, making ever-changing lists of what I’m planning for gifts, stringing up lights, baking and packing cookies, nut tassies and other treats, playing Christmas music nonstop, cutting out paper snowflakes, fashioning wreaths out of super-prickly Colorado blue spruce and juniper branches, and just generally bubbling over with that goodwill-to-all Christmas glow.

Yeah, I’m not fun to be around the first three weeks of December, if you have bah-humbug tendencies.

But while I love Christmas, the day of the year that ranks even higher for me happens just before Christmas.

It’s the winter solstice, which is on December 21 this year, at exactly 3:23 p.m. MST.

Summer solstice parties seem to be the thing—gather around on the longest day of the year, howl at the moon, pound on drums, raise a toast, or whatever it is that people do.

I’ve never been to such a gathering, because the summer solstice is no reason to celebrate, in my opinion: It signals that days get shorter afterwards. More hours of darkness? No celebratory toast from me!

Meanwhile, the winter solstice is barely a blip for most folks. (Well, except for the friend who’s been complaining his whole life about having been born on the darkest day of the year.)

Ah, but there’s the great thing—the shortest day of the year means that, after that, the days get longer!

In December, our feeder birds come for breakfast after I’ve already had my first cup of coffee. And they leave the feeder to go roost for the night by 3:30 p.m.—that’s still afternoon, for Pete’s sake!



I still have to hold up apples and oranges, with a flashlight for the sun, to envision what’s going on. But in simplest terms, the winter solstice is when we switch from leaning away from the sun to leaning towards it.

Or, in other words, spring is coming! (And now I become just as annoying about gardening as I do about Christmas, chattering about plans and plants to anyone who will hold still.)

Although the increasing time of daylight is infinitesimal at first, those extra minutes add up. Soon, the days will be noticeably longer.

With more hours of daylight, and ever-strengthening sun, it’s time to get growing. So, as soon as the Christmas tree is down, I start seeds by the sunniest window for spicy-scented dianthus, blanket flower gaillardia, and lots of other flowers. (Faster-growing tomatoes and marigolds will wait—planting those seeds is how I celebrate Valentine’s Day.)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everybody!

And save some of that eggnog, because once the presents are all handed out, and cookies have been sent off to friends far and wide, and, yes, once again, those socks I never finished knitting are set aside for “maybe next year,” it’s time to raise a toast to spring.

Sure, snow and cold will likely go on for months, but welcoming back the sun is my kind of celebration. Happy Winter Solstice!


The scenery may say winter, but longer days mean spring is coming.

Keeping Track to the Minute

Need a dose of optimism to counter afternoon darkness? Check the exact times of the soon-to-come lengthening days at

First, the shortest day: On December 21, the winter solstice, sunrise is at 7:21 a.m.; sunset at 4:36 p.m. Day length is 9 hours, 16 minutes. (And by 6 p.m., I’m ready for bed.)

On New Year’s Day, January 1, sunset is a whole 7 minutes later, at 4:43 p.m. (Wow, maybe I can even stay awake through Wheel of Fortune!)

By the end of January, boy oh boy, is it changing fast! By then, we get more than 10 hours of daylight, with sunrise at 7:11 a.m. and sunset at 5:16 p.m.

That’s about when I stop checking the website, because I can see the difference with my own eyes—and hear the chickadees calling for breakfast before the coffee water boils.



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