It is now officially dark most of the time in Oulu. Today, for instance, the sun rose at 9:16am and set at 2:53pm.
So, you only get a couple of hours of sunlight. It’s pretty sunlight because for most of the time its “sunrisey” or “sunsetty” which creates long shadows and soft golden lighting. But on days like today, I have not seen the sun. The blanket of grey that covers the sky today has blocked out the sun and I feel like I am beginning to understand the gloomy darkness of Tolkien’s Mordor (sans giant volcano of course), What seems to make it even darker is the lack of snow and colour as the trees have lost their leaves and only dark branches remain.
This darkness is not something that just came out of nowhere. Every day, the sun rises a bit later and sets a bit earlier. This descending darkness is very new to me, having spent most of my life outdoors in sunny South Africa (much to my dermatologist’s dismay).
I asked around to find out how other non-native Finnish people living in Oulu reacted to The Darkness. Some people are sleeping much more, some people are eating much more, some people are eating more spicy or flavourful foods, some people are craving chocolate, tea and coffee, some people are struggling to find motivation for their daily tasks and studies.
My perhaps obvious next question was: HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THIS? How can this be your life? Some people said they joined classes to learn something new or they joined hobby clubs to be with others who did the same hobby as them. Some suggested technologies: sun lights, sauna and putting up Christmas lights. Some suggested vitamins, especially vitamin D which is usually produced by the body in reaction to sunlight and vitamin B which is usually taken to help the nervous system and makes you a bit happy. Others suggested socialising and enjoying the real multiculturalism we have as a little expat society in Oulu.
joined a finnish choir
joined an English speaking Bible Study
used my sun light
sauna’ed as often as I can
when the sun was shining I sat/walked/biked in it as much as possible
put up my Christmas twinkle lights in October
invited people for dinner
made a calendar so that I could mark off the days till my holiday
wrote a lot of blog posts
said yes to almost every invite I got for a dinner or social outing
started taking vitamin B, C and D
started making even small admin jobs into adventures. because, like Mary Poppins sings, “For every job that must be done, there is an element of fun… find the fun and SNAP the jobs a game”
So, with all that in place, I felt very ready for November. But even with all that, I found my sleeping patterns disturbed, my appetite changed and almost even a form of depression coming on me. Maybe it would be worse if I didn’t do the changes that I wrote above, I don’t know. But at any rate, it gave me food for thought.
The opening line of Simon and Garfunkel’s song “Sound of Silence” has been going around my head for ages… “Hello darkness my old friend”.
I’m pretty sure Paul Simon was not in Finland when he wrote that, but anyways… It made me think about making darkness a friend – not in some morbid Gothic way – but more in a way of how can I befriend this thing that I am trying so hard to overcome, so hard to distance and distract myself from. I started to think how this time of darkness before the snow comes has slowed my life down a lot and given me more time alone. I was thinking about how this city-girl’s life news home has become “I’m learning to knit socks”. How I have found peace in resting, peace in quietness and how I have had to let go of my slightly restless heart. Without so many distractions, time moves slower, which is painful and irritating sometimes. I have also had to look for new treasures – the the seldom seen sun streaming through my windows, a finished mitten, a phone call from home.
I am still doing that long list of things I said above but now, instead of distractions (that don’t distract me anyways) I’m treating them like decorations on a Christmas Tree or like the twinkle lights in my windows… special things that I can only really do at this time of the year in this part of the world. The darkness has created time for me to enjoy these things in ways that in my normal sunshiny, outdoors, somewhat sociable, busy life I can’t do. It’s not how I want to live forever, that’s for sure, and I’m sure I won’t have to. This is just a season. It will be over and I will wonder what I was moaning about. But in the mean time: here’s to darkness as a friend that creates new opportunities and uncovers new dimensions of ourselves.