Of all the celestial holidays, none resonate as strongly for me as the Long Night of the Winter Solstice. Poised at the cusp between the waning and waxing year, the Long Night is a pause in the flow of time. That moment between birth and a baby's first breath when all things horrifying and glorious feel equally possible, when the world holds its breath, waiting for an answer to the eternal question of “what's next?”
For several years, photographing the sunrise that ends the Long Night has been a tradition of mine. It is my way of acknowledging the return of hope and light in a dark world. This year however, I decided to incorporate my art into the fullness of my Long Night vigil.
Part I – Into the Dark
The sun is already near to kissing the horizon when I arrive at the Camp Ellis pier for the first of my three shoots of the Solstice. The night's cold fingers are already caressing the dock when I get down to the place I've chosen for the first of my photos. Against an almost painfully empty sky, save for a few flaming clouds in the west, the dying sun's warm rays fight a loosing battle with the cool blue of fast encroaching shadows.
Then, so fast one could blink and miss it, the sun is gone from the world; the Long Night has gripped my little corner of the world.
Part II – Heart of the Night
The midpoint between dusk and dawn sees me back at the pier, but this time I haven't come alone. Despite being unwell, my husband has elected to join me for this part of my photography-vigil. Neither of us wanted the other to be alone in the deep of the Long Night, when tradition holds that we gather with friends and loved ones to shelter against the darkness.
The sight that greets us on arrival is part of the reason why I choose the location I did. Throughout history people have sought to beat back the night, and this night perhaps more than any other. The icy white of the pier's high-output lamps create a welcoming oasis of light, even in the Solstice's darkest hour.
As untold generations have before us, we draw comfort from that light, and from the knowledge that we are together, and not completely alone in the night.
Part III – Daybreak
The sky is already lightening by the third and final time I return to the pier. The pale blue sky speaks of low clouds, though when I arrive there is a cloud break to the north that is beginning to turn pink with the coming dawn.
Ten minutes later, as I am scanning the sky for any sign of the sun, just as my five-minute-until-sunrise alarm goes off, I notice that the promising patch of clear sky has been swallowed by clouds. Almost simultaneously, I become aware of a hissing sound familiar to those of us in the northern latitudes: fine particles of ice and snow skittering against the outer-shell of one's hood.
By 7:11am, my first sunrise of the waxing year, the pier and I have been engulfed in a driving snow squall. I hold out as long as I can, but eventually the freezing wind forces a retreat. The sky beyond my windshield has warmed to a slate gray, heralding the return of the as-yet invisible waxing sun as I pull out of the parking lot.
The Long Night is over, and I end my vigil having hailed the returning sun in absentia. This year of all years, when hope is a scarcity, it is tough not to see it as a troubling omen.
Note - These photos, as with a ton of my landscape, astrophotography, and sunrise/sunset photos would not be possible without the amazing resource that is The Photographer’s Ephemeris