There is something undeniably breathtaking about a starry sky. Particularly when there’s not a cloud to be seen…oh and the temperature is hovering around 18 degrees and is literally taking away your ability to breathe. (All part and parcel of living in northern Ukraine from roughly November 1 until the very end of March.) Now, granted, it’s not currently that cold here. I have been informed by the sagacious teachers at my school that we are having a worryingly warm November, which can only portend that a wickedly cold winter awaits us come January. Color me… anticipatory.
But I digress. I began this blog entry intending to to write about darkness. In particular, the darkness which descends upon my little town in Ukraine on the last weekend of October, and encroaches upon my daylight hours inexorably until the winter equinox, at which point it begins its glacially slow retreat.
You may ask, “How can it possibly be darker in your town than say, Ithaca? Nunavut? Northern Minnesota?”
Well dear reader, the answer is this: LIGHTS.
Although I spent my childhood primarily residing below the Mason-Dixon line, I have spent a fair amount of time above it, both in the United States and overseas. And I can tell you that never have I experienced a dark quite so dark as dark in northern Ukraine.
Even in a small town in the US, streets are lit by street lamps, placed at regular intervals. Signs and storefronts shine. Even when it’s dark… it’s not truly dark.
In my small town, nestled along the Russian border in the northern woods, when the sun goes down the change is immediate, and disorientating. There are 7,000 souls in my town, but I have only ever seen four functioning street lamps (others exist, but I have never seem them actually in working order.) Said street lamps are placed around the ‘center’ of town, roughly at the four corners of the tiny park. Once you get beyond their limited halos however, darkness takes on a palpable quality, of the dark one finds after midnight or the space between the stars.
The trouble with this is that this state of darkness begins in the early afternoon. Darkness has an effect on pretty much everything. Productivity, socializing, mood. Particularly in a small town. I believe I can say, without any hesitation, that I would make a very unhappy small-town vampire.
Some relevant stats:
Wednesday, November 30th, 2011.
Sunrise – 7:33 am
Sunset – 3:41pm
(You read that correctly.)
(Note: absolutely no one uses flashlights. For anything. Ever. I haven’t been able to unearth the reason why this is so, as most people seem to possess them.)
Although currently we are experiencing a respite from the colder temperatures of early November, ice and snow are inevitably just around the corer. When the ice finally secures its dominion over the ground, the darkness and the ice will offer up a particularly challenging combination, usually resulting in me either flailing wildly to maintain my balance (and resembling some uncoordinated night-dwelling ghoul from a distance, no doubt), or being unceremoniously deposited on the ground, dignity in tatters.
Apart from the occassionally lighted window, and the blinding lights of logging trucks rumbling through town, in the late afternoons and early evenings my town is an ideal backdrop for a horror film, or some artistic piece on the solemnity and isolation of winter in northern woods.
But sometimes, when I’m trekking home, face muffled in a winter scarf ,contemplating the life choices that led me to Peace Corps service in northern Ukraine, with its long, cold, dark winters, I glance up.
And that’s when I see the night sky.
And suddenly, I don’t mind the dark, or the cold quite so much.