As winter slowly turns into spring, most people turn their thoughts to warmer weather, flowers in the park and, probably, the birds and the bees. These are all good things to welcome, in my view.
But what I really like in the late spring, right up to the summer solstice (21 June) and beyond, are the long light evenings. Taking a walk when it is officially night-time – 9 p.m., say, but it feels like a slightly odd daytime – is very special. Even better when it is a warm evening.
There is something very soft and peaceful about such an evening. I find it very calming. And it feels like a bonus in your day, a little ‘extra time’ that is not usually available.
Let us go back a step. The opposite of a summer light evening is the winter period around the solstice (21 December) when the nights are long and intrude heavily into the day.
Some people love the winter evenings ‘drawing in’, but not me. I am very, very uncomfortable at this time of year – from mid-November to late January or so in London, where I live.
It can become dark well before 4 o’clock in the afternoon – indeed, at the exact point of the winter solstice, the sun goes down before then and dusk comes even earlier.
Although the streetlights come on, I find it hard to see where I am. Often, the air is murky, which makes it worse. Yet this is a time when we need to be out and about doing things.
I feel disoriented and uneasy. I invariably arrive home in a bad mood.
And I worry especially for those older children who are making their way home in the dark. Many are wearing dark coats and trousers and they are certainly not very visible to drivers when crossing the street at this time.
But let us come back to the late spring and summer, when I can see clearly and have no worries for the safety of children.
The precise length of the day on the summer solstice differs according to where you live, of course. In England (which is further north than many people think), the days can be very long.
In London, my research tells me, the sun rises at roughly 4.40 a.m. and sets at roughly 9.20 p.m. at the height of the solstice, but of course, it can remain light for much longer. Even at 10.00 p.m., the sky is not completely dark.
In New York, to give one comparison, the sun rises almost an hour later and sets nearly an hour earlier. This gives New Yorkers a long day as well, but not as long.
But the real point here is that it is lovely for all of us. If the day has been hot, you can go for a walk in the gentle air of the evening. Or you can sit in the garden with friends. Or the park.
The atmosphere is completely different from that of the day. It is evening but not evening. I find it magical.
Those readers who were watching carefully – or who, like me, don’t sleep well through the night – may note that another effect of the summer solstice is a lot of very early light.
In London, you can wake up to sunshine well before 5 o’clock. This can be a problem if you need darkness to sleep.
But for me, it is a small price to pay for the long languorous evenings. I consider that to be our prize for putting up with the winter darkness.
Sun Standing Still
The word solstice means the sun standing still in Latin. It seems like a small pause before the change of the sun’s seasonal movement.
That makes sense to me. And it is a time when we can all stand still and ponder.