December is the month of artificial light, when our townscapes gleam with the cold twinkle of illumination to ward off the darkness. Teardrops of amber. Scrolls of silver. Cascades of gold. White garlands and pinpricks of pewter. Kaleidoscopes of lights. On the high street it is often too much: too gaudy, too synthetic. But on silent streets and in deserted parks, they are islands of light to guide us through the night. Windows flooded with colour welcome us home, so that we can turn our backs on the discomforts of the darkness.
December skies are flushed with colour. Dawns of orange and purple; twilights of pink and blue; a half moon lighting up the darkness. Stripes of wavery tangerine cross pale peach. Fingers of pink span baby blue. A full moon hangs in a blushing sky. Perhaps nature is trying to rival the pull of electricity. Artificial light is pretty, comforting and useful, but it will never equal the display of a sunset or a sunrise.
On election day, we vote before dawn. Afterwards, before work, I walk in the country park. It is dark, barely light enough to see. There is no colour yet, only shades and shadows. Trees creak, undergrowth rustles. A blackbird trumpets in alarm and I hear the distant chink of a moorhen. Ducks descend on the pond, first a pair, then a quintet, mallards in silhouette. They cackle as I walk the path to the sundial.
The coming sunrise inflames the trees, glowing through skeletons. The temperature is two degrees above freezing with a biting wind: it is bitter up here at the top of the hill. Coloured twinkles in the distance, the hills chains of artificial light. Sunrise begins as a vivid orange splash, brighter than any of those electric lights, but it soon becomes more nuanced. I won’t see the sun all day, but it puts on its show from behind the clouds. Violets and pinks, oranges and reds, blushes and blooms of colour. The sea is a violet stripe prickled with platinum. The sunrise pushes back the electric lights until they disappear.
Crows appear, swooping and cawing. Next, the gulls begin to call. Finally the muted voices of songbirds and the stutter of magpies. The sky lightens to a block of grey-blue cloud with a strip of buttermilk across the horizon. The park regains colour. There is a sprinkling of autumn leaves and berries, but most of the autumn colour has leached from the landscape. A charm of goldfinches flutters from a tree as I pass, leaving a lone dunnock behind. I have seen the blaze of dawn but now daylight comes quietly.
It has been a speedy and subtle season. I have hardly noticed the darkness. As the glory of the leaves faded, the skies blossomed. Autumn is gone and winter is gaining, but there is little fanfare. Election day passes more quietly than I expect. It seemed like an important day, with an opportunity for real change, but ends up as more of the same. The creative spark is sleeping. I’ve felt weary and in need of a break. Soon the solstice will be here, when the light will ignite once more. And my break is finally here, a stretch of gloriously leisurely days that will lead me to the light, sky by painted sky.