The longest night of Wyoming’s year: Surviving dark winter days


If my late father had a favorite winter day, it would have occurred on Dec. 22 this year. That is the day when the nights started getting shorter and days started getting longer.

As he got older and entered the long dark winter of his own lifetime, I think those ever-longer nights and ever-briefer days would remind him of his own life slipping away.

He always looked forward to Dec. 22. He would have a spring in his step, as he got up as early as possible to mark the fact that we had all made it through one more dark winter season. “The future is going to be much brighter, no doubt about it!” he might be saying, if he were still alive.

The continuing theme of the super-popular TV show “Game of Thrones” is “Winter is Coming.”  I think that theme does not just refer to the seasons but to the overpowering darkness that occurs in the wintertime. My dad died before he had a chance to see that show but he knew what that phrase meant.

I am now in my 72nd year. It is easy to identify with his feelings. With that introduction, let me say that Dec. 22 will be a great day. Yes, the nights are shorter. And the days are longer.

Alas, here in Wyoming, we still might have four and a half more months of wintry weather.

Some years ago I created markers on my patio showing the location of the setting sun during the spring, summer, fall, and winter solstices and equinoxes. I know that you feel like the sun has moved during the year, but when you see those markers, well it is almost unbelievable.

If I stand looking straight ahead to the marker for the Spring and Fall equinoxes the summer sun marker is far to my right. The distance is almost unimaginable when you see how far the winter sun marker is from where the summer sun sets.

Actually, the sun does not move. The earth tilts on its axis but it just seems like the sun has moved a long, long way.

Of course, this time of year, the sun going down between 4:30 and 5 p.m. is a shock to the system. In my hometown of Lander, we lose about 20 extra minutes of daylight because the afternoon sun sets behind the massive Wind River Mountains to our southwest.

And if those days do seem shorter, it is because they are massively shorter. The longest summer day is five hours and 50 minutes longer than the shortest winter day — about a fourth of the 24-hour day in difference.

This is one of the reasons so many people feel depressed this time of year: too much darkness. Two other reasons are cold and ice. Friends all over Wyoming have been slipping on the ice and breaking bones.

Many places in the state get lots of wind, which warms up their towns and melts the ice.  Places like Lander, Riverton, Sheridan, Newcastle, Worland and Evanston are not quite as prone to get wind, thus ice piles up. Nothing is quite as depressing as dealing with a broken arm or separated shoulder or fractured hip from a fall.

I am writing this on a Sunday afternoon, after witnessing quite an outpouring of good cheer.

More than 300 teeming baskets of food, books, toys and games were distributed to needy families here in the Lander area by a smiling group of Elks members who tackled the job cheerfully.

Even though it was cold, you would never know it by the looks on the faces of these folks.

For many of them it was a three-generation event with grandpa, son, and a grandchild tagging along making sure the deliveries were made.

It was a great lesson in giving, what this season is all about.

Folks all across the state are busy helping people in need during this holiday season.

And if you think there are not any needy folks around, did you see the story about the farmer south of Cheyenne in Colorado a few years back who offered free vegetables to folks who came to his farm and dug them up?

More than 10,000 people showed up. The traffic jam stretched for miles up and down Interstate 25.

There are needs out there during these dark days of December. Luckily there are lots of good-hearted folks helping others less fortunate this time of year.

Check out additional columns at www.billsniffin.com. He has published six books.  His coffee table book series has sold 34,000 copies. You can find them at www.wyomingwonders.com.

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