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Long Light Evenings
Thought for the fortnight
As winter slowly moves into spring, most people turn their thoughts to warmer weather, flowers in the park and, traditionally, 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 – 9.00 p.m., say, but it feels like a slightly odd daytime – is very special. It’s like a bonus in your day.
Even better when it is a warm evening. Something very soft and peaceful then. (Few of those in England this year, but hey, there is still time.)
I don’t feel that these pleasures get enough attention from anyone.
Let us go back a step. The opposite of a summer light evening is the period around the winter solstice (22 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 that 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 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. Murky air can make it worse. Yet this is a time when we all 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 my grandchildren (and all children) who are making their way home. With the dark coats and trousers of their school uniforms, they not very visible to drivers on busy streets.
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 about 4.40 a.m. and sets at about 9.20 p.m. at the height of the solstice, but it remains light for much longer. Even at 10.00 p.m., the sky is not completely dark.
And it is lovely time of year because of these evenings. 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 a.m.. 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.
The meaning of solstice
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.
It is a time when we can all stand still and ponder.
A version of this article was initially published by SixtyandMe.com