23 December 2012

Black and gold

We made it. The year has turned. Helped no doubt by some of us gathering to celebrate its turning - what a lovely night we had. Thanks to all who made it and for those who couldn't: maybe next year. Those in the antipodes were celebrating a solstice of another kind of course, but those of us up here at 53 degrees North were relieved and delighted to know that the light now starts to fight back.

Winter morning sky

LB mentioned that she always remembers my Da at this time because one year at this sort of celebration he reminded her that at this latitude we don't see the mornings get brighter until later in January. He would have had Brendan McWilliams in mind, I know, as he loved to read McWilliams in the newspaper every day. One of the last public events my Da went to was a lecture by McWilliams on climate change. Here's McWilliams himself (thanks for the lovely gift SOT):
"If we were to set our clocks exactly according to the Sun, to what it called 'Local Apparent Time' or LAT and by which noon each day is the exact instant when the Sun is due south, then the annual shortening and lengthening of the days would be symmetical about the winter solstice ... But in real life we do not set out clocks to LAT. Measured accurately by the Sun, the days turn out for various reasons to differ slightly  in their length ... than the precise interval we know as twenty-four hours. To avoid practical inconvenience, we 'pretend' as it were, that the days are all exactly twenty-four hours long; we use what is called mean time.
"Because of this, our clocks are usually a little out of step with the Sun, ... during December and January the effect of [this] is slowly to shift clock time a little forward each day as compared to real Sun time.
"... Once the winter solstice has passed, we ought to see earlier sunrises, but this trend is counteracted by the fact that our clocks are out of sync with nature; they show a progressively later time each late December morning than they ought to, which provides a trend for an apparently later dawn. Only near the end of January does the seasonal effect accelerate sufficiently to overcome this chronometrical illusion, and the mornings begin to become noticeably brighter."
[Published in the Irish Times on 02 January 2007]
Small wonder then that it's the 'grand stretch in the evenings' that we notice first. Whatever it is, seconds or minutes per day, in the morning or the evening, I welcome it with open arms.

Giant Sequoia (dead centre) and Scots Pine catch the winter morning sunlight
Some of my morning walks this week have been a bit later than usual and I've been enjoying the extra light. Gale force winds blew across the country last night and left us with bright sunlight and downed branches this morning. The trees in the local park stood firm, withstanding the winter pruning with little more than a scattering of broken twigs and small branches at their feet. The Scots Pines and Giant Sequoias didn't seem to suffer at all. The sycamores are now truly bare and it's hard to remember what they looked like midsummer. Handy to have a blogly reminder:

Winter sycamore

Remember this? Summer sycamore
Rain throughout the week brought gloomy skies, yes, but left its own beauty in its wake: small gems of light sparkling on the Sacred Bamboo (Nandina domestica), and the blue-black steely Black grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens') shot through with the gold of fading Miscanthus with its own diamonds of rain.

Nandian domestica, Sacred Bamboo,
with festive lights courtesy of the winter rain
Ophipogon and Miscanthus
I had to get out in the garden to do something this week, so there was some desultory tidying up going on, but most gardening activity is suspended. The only botanical outlets are this blog and the painting practice; here's a seasonal attempt:

Holly leaf
Happy Christmas all, near and far. 


  1. Thanx for a lovely solstice! Sorry I was so late. The builder didnt turn up - again - so I had to spend 2 days up ladders myself painting & decorating. ZZZzzz....Graineweile

  2. Great to see you on Solstice GrĂ¡, hope the rest of the season went well, in spite of unreliable builders...