Surviving the short, dark days of winter

Soon it will be the shortest day of the year, and the cycle towards sunlight will begin once again

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SKELHP, B.C. Dec 13, 2015/ Troy Media/ – “Cold, dark and wet.” That’s how my neighbour describes his many dark days of winters here at Skelhp before our family moved next-door.

“You have to get used to it, and you will – but it takes a bit of time.” Well, this year I am.

The sun doesn’t fill the living room with light until after 9 a.m. each December morning. That is, if the rain clouds, fog and mist aren’t too low. Sometimes you can look out over the water and not even see the nearby islands. And then there’s dusk. The sun sets at 4:12 p.m. today, and dark follows by 5 p.m. When the thundering rains fall, as they do almost every night this time of the year, the inside of our house echoes like a hollow drum. It takes some getting used to.

Luckily, I have many helpers in my process of acclimatization. Just last week I was splitting fir rounds for the fireplace out in the meadow when I heard a Raven croak. Four times. For some reason I croaked back four times, in my best Raven as a second language (RSL). The Raven then croaked three times. So did I. The Raven then croaked two times. So did I. The Raven then croaked once. So did I. There was a silence for a few seconds, and then the Raven glided down from its perch in the tall Douglas fir, circled me, and flew out to sea.

Out front, beyond the granite low bank cliffs that form our edge with the ocean, are a few more friends I am learning to communicate with – Humpback whales. There are two matures, each about 15 metres in length, and a smaller calf, perhaps five metres long. They arrived in early May this year, and have been patrolling the length of Jervis Inlet for seven months.

We’ve seen them breach many times, almost clearing the water, and then thundering down on their massive flanks in shrouds of spray. When they breathe, each breath is audible as they pass, and associated with the expelled air is the smell of freshly eaten krill and anchovies. Lately, they’ve started to sing, behaviour associated with their mating ritual. My shout-outs from shore have gone unreturned. Perhaps unrequited.

In sharp contrast with the Raven and the Humpbacks, our Koi are very quiet in their pond during the dark days of winter. They still swim lazily about during the short daylight hours, but they are unresponsive to handfuls of fish-food pellets, and they no longer pop their snouts above the water’s surface when they see me approach. We think they are essentially hibernating for three quarters of the day, but their colourful orange and gold presence is always welcome, especially as an offset to the pervasive grey and green that surrounds us now.

The Blacktail deer fawn twins, now in their second year, are regular visitors at Skelhp, but they are lurking in the roadside cover more than usual this month. Ever since the hunting season began, they have become more reclusive, even though we aren’t hunting them. You can hear the occasional gun shots up on the mountain behind us, and deer ears seem to be especially sensitive to even the distant presence of hunters.

Down the bay at the salmon creek, the waters are running fast but fishless. The last of the Dog Salmon had spawned in late November, and only a few of their worn carcasses still linger on the banks. The Black bears which were a nuisance presence since September have gone off to hibernate. The noisy agglomeration of gulls, sea ducks, Blue herons and Bald eagles have also moved on, back to their familiar winter beaches and bays. Even the out of range Golden eagle has flapped off.

Inside our house the piles of books beckon from their stacks on tables. Wade Davis’ 655 page brick, Into the Silence: the Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest, has finally been conquered after waiting an entire summer to be read. Perhaps most delightful are the dinner invitations from good friends nearby in weather-tight houses that burn wood for heat, and shine light through windows gazing at the dark.

Soon it will be the shortest day of the year, and the cycle towards sunlight will begin once again.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum, and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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