the first touch of winter

“At the First Touch of Winter, Summer Fades Away”
by Valentine Cameron Prinsep

The days move more swiftly now, too, with late dawns and early dusks. The days march toward the winter solstice like a winter farmhand with the wind at his back. And the long nights become the sleep of the earth itself, the rest, the waiting.

The fox barks in the night, in the glitter of winter starlight. The deer shelter in the hemlock thickets on the mountain. The woodchuck sleeps, breathing only once in five minutes. And that hurrying wind whistles in the naked maples. November is at hand. This is the hurrying, impatient wind of winter that I hear in the night.

~ Hal Borland
(Hal Borland’s Book of Days)

28 thoughts on “the first touch of winter”

  1. Beautifully penned to describe the march toward the solstice. I was thinking about daylight yesterday – how we thinking of the long daylight hours of summer, but most of summer has decreasing hours of daylight. We think of the dark days of winter, but most of winter has increasing daylight hours.

    1. It’s true. I have a friend who gets depressed on the summer solstice because the days will be getting shorter and shorter. I always think of November and December as months of relative darkness, but when I think of January and February I see in my mind bright sunshine reflecting off the blankets of snow.

  2. I read an interesting book by A Roger Ekirch entitled “At Day’s Close: A History of Nighttime.” He discusses many fascinating facets of nighttime including first and second sleep and how our circadian rhythms are not meant for us to snooze through the night.

    People in times past would awaken after first sleep and enjoy a light meal and conversation or even *ahem* intimacy while others might read if they had the wherewithal to afford candles. Those even more adventurous, and depending on the phases of the moon, might even travel by horseback to enjoy the company of others.

    Thanks again for a stimulating post. As a child I believed that nighttime was host to all manner of demons, witches and other such entities. As an adult, I still believe that what goes on at night differs decidedly from what transpires by day!

    1. That is so interesting, Frank! Maybe that is the rhythm my body is trying to get me to sync up with. I ususally wake up at 3 am and have to get up and do something, usually some family history research or reading a book, sometimes scrolling through my newsfeed on my cell phone. Then, after an hour or so, I go back to sleep.

      It would be fun to take a walk at night — I went on an owl prowl at the local nature center once — but for the most park I’m still afraid of the dark. When I used to visit my father I got nervous walking from his house to my car at night.

      One of the things I vividly remember about Sigrid Undset’s books, set in medieval Norway, is that the characters would wake up in the middle of the night and know exactly the time it was by the sounds they heard from outside. Imagine being so in tune with the patterns in the natural world.

      1. Thanks for your kind reply, Barbara. My name, though, is James Keenan Pridmore. You will appreciate that I was named after my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother was Ann Keenan and my paternal grandmother was James… Well, it was actually Zita Broderick James, ha. Since it was her surname, I refuse to shorten it to Jim Some understand, others think I’m being snooty.

        I love your description of being in tune with nature. Unfortunately, light pollution is robbing us of the night sky. Even here in northwest Montana the growing population is making celestial bodies fade from view. A few years ago I was outside on my eleven acre property in a rural area and the stars were so bright and plentiful from horizon to horizon that it was almost oppressive. I sat down on my driveway and just took it all in.

        What we need is a good blackout, just so we can get reacquainted with the constellations and comets. I don’t know if you are religious but Genesis indicates that the lights in the heavens are for signs and for seasons. I’m not sure we’d know any more if God were sending us a message. 😉

        1. Oh my goodness, James, I am so sorry! I must have had Frank, from the comment above yours, still on my mind. I’m so embarrassed! I hope you’ll forgive me for the blunder. I totally understand about your preference for James. I don’t like being called Barb and my sister Beverly dislikes being called Bev.

          The medieval log houses didn’t have windows so they couldn’t see the stars to give them any clues, so it was the sounds they heard at different times during the nights that told them the time. I agree with you about light pollution. To see the blue moon on Halloween we went to a wildlife sanctuary and enjoyed the lack of streetlights and houses. But of course, there was a glow on the horizon from civilization nearby. Sigh. Star-gazing from your property sounds so heavenly.

  3. There is a hurrying impatient kind of wind outside right now. You can feel winter closing in. The pretty leaves are mostly down, the skeleton-branches click over head, and snow is forecast (again). Thinking of the daylight savings change tonight, and how it will be light earlier in the morning for a couple of weeks, but dark much quicker in the evening as well. Heading toward winter solstice…

    1. It would be so nice to hear those skeleton-branches clicking overhead. My goodness, old man winter certainly is in a hurry to make his presence felt in your neck of the woods. He should be told in no uncertain terms to wait his turn! Or else to leave as quickly as he is determined to arrive. Being a morning person I am enjoying the earlier light this morning. It’s comforting to know the seasons are still coming and going around the wheel of the year.

        1. Grandson Finn is a morning person, too, unlike his parents and sister, but very much like his Grammy. Today is his 2nd birthday and we spent the early morning on a video call. ♡

  4. From ‘Book of Days’ … such a beautiful title. We can so easily be swept away into the whole, yet it is the days that matter.
    Again I see the opposite effect the weather in out two hemispheres has. Wind whistling through maples is a sign of winter approaching for you, while our blustering winds yesterday signify the beginning of our cyclone season.
    Isn’t nature amazing? <3

    1. It IS amazing. “Hal Borland’s Book of Days” is engrossing, a daily journal of his thoughts. Some days he talks about the weather or the seasons but other days he muses about natural history or geology or even human nature. Our hurrricane season should be winding down by November 30 but seems to still be going strong. Hope you don’t get any severe cyclones this year.

      1. I found the book on Amazon, Barbara, and I’ve ordered it. 🙂 I see Hal Borland wrote a number of books – have you read any more?
        We don’t worry too much about cyclones here. No matter where you live in Australia – possibly even the world – Mother Nature always has something up her sleeve that will try our patience. When I lived down south as a child, we had bushfires to contend with. Here, we have cyclones! Luckily though, we usually only get the end of cyclones as they travel down from further north in the tropics.

        1. Wonderful! I hope you’ll enjoy the book. I haven’t read any of his other books — yet. 🙂 It’s the opposite here, we usually get the end of hurricanes as they travel up from down south in the tropics. The remnants of the last hurricane made a dent in our drought, which is now in the moderate category, down from extreme and severe. It’s sobering to think how a storm that causes so much devastation down south turns out to be so beneficial for us up north. The mysteries of nature…

  5. There is a kind of hurrying to time these days. I was going to attribute it to my age, and that may be so, but after reading this, I can see how much we resemble what happens in nature. As the year grows older, time seems to move rather swiftly towards the end of one year and the beginning of the next. I was awake and up at 4:30 this morning, now that we’ve moved the clocks back an hour. It’s making me get all philosophical. lol! I love the quote, Barbara. Thank you for sharing it. 🙂

    1. Time does seem to be flying by quicky these days. 🙂 After all, a year is half a two-year old’s life, a year is a mere 1/63rd of my life. I like Borland’s idea of the earth sleeping, resting, waiting. Things we can do better with the darkness. It was amazing last night, Tim & I went to a wildlife sanctuary to photograph the full blue moon and we heard a fox bark just like Borland described in his book, and the stars were glittering, too. We asked ourselves why we didn’t do this more often…

  6. I’m SO not ready for Winter yet!! With the clocks falling back, I’m delighted to find it so light outside in the mornings. We won’t talk about those dark evenings, ha!

    1. Winter does seem to be arriving a tad bit early. I think the frost finally killed my geranium. I’m loving the morning light, too, and the chance to snuggle in for the dark evenings. 🙂

  7. What a great description by Hal Borland of our impending Winter (ugh) as we slide into November. My favorite line was: “The days march toward the winter solstice like a winter farmhand with the wind at his back.”

    We’ve been promised a Winter with much precip (in multiple forms) (any form is too much in my opinion) due to La Nina. I’d be happy if we were anticipating Spring’s arrival instead. We have 70s this weekend to buoy our spirits and make us forget those dire predictions. I like the photo you chose Barbara.

    1. Thank you, Linda. I do love the way Borland describes the weather and the seasons so poetically and it’s fun to find a painting to pair with his words. We had a wind advisory on Monday and it was still very windy yesterday, but the wind has died down today so we might get out for a good walk. Yay! Looking forward to a nice warm weekend here, too. If you get too much precipitation send it over our way — we could use it! 🙂

      1. Yes, it paired perfectly for this beautiful Fall season. It was beautiful here today – got to 70 this afternoon. The walk was nice and I walked 5 miles as I could leave earlier but it was 15 mph wind while I was there, so a little blustery. Amazingly, half the trees still have leaves. This surprises me as the wind has raged for days on end. I will be happy to forward rain to you 🙂

        1. I’m glad you got a good walk in. We did, too. There are a few leaves left on a couple of trees. Looks like your warm weather is on its way here for the weekend. 🙂

          1. This warm weather is such a treat – today we had clouds, but the next four days are sunny and about 70 and we may break a record Sunday. I wish we could keep this a little longer … I keep thinking it might be the calm before the storm!

          2. May we enjoy the weather while it lasts and don’t worry about the storms until they get here! As my mother used to say, there will be plenty of time for that later…

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