Finding Wonder and Beauty in the Solstice Darkness

Twenty-three and a half degrees. Actually, is 23.4 degrees, but let’s not get too technical. It’s going to change anyway. That’s the tilt of the earth. Paraphrasing the classic Sam Cooke song, “Don’t know much about astronomy,” but I’ll say it – I am geeked-out-over-the-moon-fascinated by the tilt of the Earth’s axis.

Tuesday was the Winter Solstice. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the shortest and darkest day of the year. One of the super cool things about hanging out with me is that on days like the solstice, I ask whoever will (or has to) listen, “And do you know why we have a solstice?” And the even cooler thing about enjoying my company is that whether or not you want to hear it, I will launch into the answer.

I ask whoever will (or has to) listen, “And do you know why we have a solstice?” And the even cooler thing about enjoying my company is that whether or not you want to hear it, I will launch into the answer.

It’s all about the tilt of the earth. Let’s review, shall we?

  • The earth is tilted at 23.4 degrees.
  • The tilt was caused by an ancient collision with a planet-sized body, that may have also resulted in the creation of the moon. (Did you feel your mind explode a little there?)
  • Right now, in the Northern Hemisphere, we are tilted as far away as we will get from the sun, which means the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and we get far less heat from the sun.
  • There was no sunset on Antarctica on Tuesday night, and there was no light shining on Santa’s home. See 1-minute video of the sun doing a 24-hour circle dance above Antarctica here. (I did not find a video on the darkness of the North Pole – seems like it would be, well, dark.)
  • Our 23.4-degree axis points directly at Polaris, which is the Northern Hemisphere’s North Star.

I bet right now most of you still reading are saying, I wish I could hang out with Mike and hear that description four times a year, with every solstice or equinox. You are not alone. If you work on it, you can learn to roll your eyes as well as my family or co-workers do.

So on this special day, inspired by the day’s brevity and the longest night, I tried to make the most of it. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 4:30 AM: (still dark) emptied the dishwasher and did my daily make the kitchen spotless ritual. After stretching, I left for swimming at 5:15.
  • 5:55 AM: (still dark) Jumped into the outdoor pool (quite warm – almost 80 degrees), and swam 3,000 yards with other Masters Swimming crazy people. Took a hot shower afterwards, outside in the cold and wind. The swimming felt great, the shower hurt.
  • 6:57 AM: Sunrise.
  • 9:00 AM: Shopped for ingredients for soups for dinners this week, as there’s nothing like soup when it’s darker and colder, This week I’m making Tomato Bread Soup, Split Pea Soup, and Won Ton Soup. Combine that with some brown Irish Soda Bread, and you are thriving in the darkness!
  • 11:00 AM: Made a lunch of Won Ton Soup that will soon make its way to
  • 1:00 PM: Epic Nap
  • 4:30 PM: Sunset walk on the beach with Jill. Singing to myself the rest of that Sam Cooke song, “And I do know that I love you. And I know that if you love me too, what a wonderful world this would be.”
  • 4:51 PM: Sunset in Malibu – As you can see from the picture above, it was windy and cold, but pretty spectacular!
  • 5:30 PM: Impromptu drinks with friends at the beach, hearing the sounds of a nearby solstice wedding as the shortest day’s light faded.
  • 6:00 PM: Darkness falls, and we get to see Venus, Jupiter, and, following the 23.4-degree tilt of our planet, we see Polaris, heading home knowing where to find pretty true north.

That’s a pretty good day!

These dark days bring opportunities for reflection and celebration. We have enjoyed Hanukkah celebrations with friends, masked or virtual birthday celebrations with two family members, and we look forward to Christmas celebrations, all virtual this year, with family. Our current plan for New Year’s Eve is to test ourselves for COVID (damn you, Omicron!) then join a few similarly tested, double-vaccinated, and boostered friends for an outdoor New Year’s Eve gathering. And against my wishes, this group will tilt a glass at midnight Pacific time, though I would much prefer celebrating when the ball drops in Times Square, or even Nova Scotia. But to bed after that, as I have a 6,000-yard date with my crazy masters swimming friends at 10:00 AM on New Year’s Day!

As we celebrate in the darkness, I wish all of you the happiest (and safest) of holidays in this wonderful world, and I look forward to sharing thoughts with all of you in the lengthening days of 2022.


Photo by NASA/Space Place