Winter’s dark months paradox: less sunlight brings longer days in Dalarna

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 in Nature, Places | No Comments
Winter’s dark months paradox: less sunlight brings longer days in Dalarna

Wintertime in the Nordic countries brings splendid bright days with ice and snow but also the dark months with limited daylight. During the so called mörketid, the dark period with the Winter Solstice as center point, the sun will be below the horizon for weeks north of the Arctic Circle. More to the south, a little daylight is added. Who is not acquainted with this phenomenon and only thinks of it as something that has to be avoided, is wrong. Although it may sound like a contradiction, less daylight hours let you enjoy a longer day. The paradox here is that it feels like having additional time, just because the day is prolonged in the dark hours. This discussion needs to walk on eggshells though.

Aurora Borealis, image by J. van Marsdijk

Aurora Borealis, image by J. van Marsdijk

One friend who lives in Tromsø is frequently asked by Norwegians and foreigners alike how he manages to survive in the darkness with 60 Polar nights. He happily explains that he likes every second of it. Lots of vitamin D, to be more precise cod liver oil helps, as well as the awareness that a winter SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder, in short: winter depression) may lure you into the unwanted state of fatigue and even depression. Moreover, exercising and going outdoors even when its freezing cold is a must. You need fresh air to shake off all the remnants of the warm and comfortable house with its closed windows and running heaters. Remarkable but true another friend, based in Stockholm, complains that the same months let him transform into a being that only would like to hibernate, which is his obvious solution for weekends. Reason enough to buy a ticket and spend a holiday with plenty of sunshine? In wintertime many Scandinavians do take off to the South or travel to a faraway sunny island. The sweet and welcoming feeling of time limited luxury offered by a nice hotel and swimming pool is not something that should be missed. Still, their home countries with the cold and snow covered landscapes offer unequaled sheer beauty. And the spectacular northern lights.

 

Travelling through Dalarna’s wilderness

It’s like hiking through winter wonderland. Dalarna, the province in the middle of Sweden that reaches from the Norwegian border inlands, is the region where the vast wilderness of the far north begins. With all the lakes, streams, rivers, endless woods and mountains it is a place where you will find yourself in close contact with nature. It helps that there are only nine inhabitants per square kilometer so it’s most likely that you’ll encounter a reindeer before you see any human being. Temperatures in winter vary from day to day and it is not uncommon that you’ll start the day with a comfortable minus five degrees below zero, which changes into a minus twenty within a few hours. ‘Be prepared’ therefore is not some odd or expendable warning of some kind but a real lifesaver. The word elegance is banned, you just cover up in anything that will keep you warm and, very important, dry.

 

Nature as a guide

When it is really cold outside, we want to protect ourselves from the elements. We have to in order to survive. Hibernating isn’t an option: our body system is not build that way. We cannot lower our core body temperature and still function properly. So that one is out. Leaves us with adapting to circumstances, one way or another. City life functions best when transportation is no problem and everything is easy accessible. Chaos enters the stage as soon as weather conditions are bad, or in case power supply is hindered. We are in our modern way of life more dependent than ever before in history. No moral high ground preaching here but it is a fact that a lot of people search for the kind of experiences that enables them to get rid of an stimulus overload, albeit for just a while. Maybe it is also a matter of attitude. Or, and this is only a presumption: if you’re living in the city the darkness weighs you down and in the end you will only notice the slush, all you do is tread water in order to get to the bus station. Getting up when it is dark and coming home in the same darkness without having seen a sparkle of sunlight is not very inspiring indeed. Natural surroundings can make up for these shortcomings. To the fullest.

 

The Sami calendar follows the reindeer’s footsteps

The indigenous people of the north, the Sami, live in the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia, this region is known as Sápmi.

Sami people region, map by Anders Suneson

Sami people region, map by Anders Suneson

 

With their rich cultural heritage, the Sami calendar shows that nature still reigns over the perception of time. Reindeer herding is at the heart of Sami culture even to this day, and the centre is composed of the life cycles of the reindeer. In Winter, the last of the eight seasons and also the most harsh, the reindeer are herded to the forests, the only place now where enough food may be found. Darkness has set in, and this is reflected in the Sami name for the November month: Skábmamánnu, meaning Dark-Period Month.

 

Minus 32 degrees Celsius in Idre is cold indeed

Temperature is a scientific, man defined standard. But this calculation of warmth and cold is also perceived in a subjective way. Moreover, differences between men and women do exist in reality. When he is wearing only a sweater, she will wrap herself in a coat. In general women are more sensitive to the cold, especially in the extremities. So it’s perfectly normal that we always complain about cold hands and cold feet! Under normal circumstances there is not much to worry about, or it must be the ongoing hassle of nocturnal blanket claims. Outdoors, however, things may change. In wintertime one has to be aware of the frostbite and hypothermia risks that may occur.

Idre, 61˚ north

This year we have experienced these very cold conditions. In Idre, with coordinates 61° 51′ 24″ N, 12° 43′ 0″ E, in short 61˚ north, in Swedish Dalarna. And what is said couldn’t be more true: below minus 20 degrees Celsius it is different. The cold is ever present. Starting in the morning: ice is on the windows, not outside but inside our cottage. Opening the door, you are grabbed by invisible tentacles of cold air. An opportunity for a daughter who wouldn’t miss an experimental moment: fill a glass with hot water and throw it high in the air. The water reaches its freezing point immediately and falls down as a translucent crystallized curtain, like Galadriel’s gown.

Awareness of the cold means taking appropriate measures. Face, ears and hands have to be protected by Vaseline. No mascara on eyelashes, they will certainly freeze and fall out afterwards. In addition to this a humorous annoyance arises – we consider it to be the Tangela-effect, named after the Pokémon noodle look alike character. It is the battle with long hair which is constantly turning into a dry spaghetti like mess, calling for scissors or braids. Thus we opt for the Pippi Longstocking style, a Pyrrhic victory. More practicalities: a thermos filled with hot tea even when you take off for a short trip only. An extra safety blanket, torch and headlamp in the car. And duct tape, which retains its adhesive properties even in the severe cold. Surprisingly, you do not see your exhaled breath anymore. The air freezes instantly, mostly into your scarf or balaclava.

Spotting owls is easy on cold winter nights

Over and above it is beautiful and fascinating. The woods offer complete silence. Now to be seen are the glittering ice crystals: when it is dark they seem to have laid out a sparkling carpet. It invites a son to another experiment: how long can I lay down in the snow before I will be frost glued to it? It took him approximately ten minutes to subscribe firmly to the fact that even a young and healthy person will freeze to death in due time. No wild animals around now, they all seem to have taken shelter somewhere else. Only the owls, nocturnal creatures as they are, are present . In the evening and night we can hear their distinctive hooting and more than once one of them comes very close, skimming across the balcony. We are sitting there, watching the stars. A cold night, a clear sky: this ideal combination will let you stare at the multitude of stars. Fascinated by the stellar night one forgets how cold it is and stays outside too long. Nature’s seductiveness…. Be that as it may it will happen again, therefore I promise myself to look out for one of those insulated skirts. And a reindeer skin to use as sitting pad.

 

 

 

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