Anne Horrigan Geary: Looking back upon long white nights


DALTON >> As we dive headfirst into the sky blue lake of summer, it's time to celebrate all things related to our favorite season, first and foremost the summer solstice.

This year, on June 20, we had the most daylight of any day in the 365-day calendar. Where we live, that amounts to about 15 hours of light; but that is not true everywhere. The nearer one moves north toward the Arctic Circle, the longer the daylight becomes.

We experienced that first-hand the summer of our Baltic cruise. We left Dover, England in the middle of June, and after traversing the Kiel Canal and calling at ports in Germany and Estonia, we arrived for a two-day stay in St. Petersburg, Russia. Often on cruises we change time zones once or twice, but this trip gave our staid circadian rhythm a good swift kick in the alarm clock.

On the day of the solstice, there were about 21 hours of daylight and three hours of twilight. It was eerie at first. We spent the normal daylight hours on a tour and river cruise, then went out in the evening to a performance of traditional music and dance.

We sat on our balcony waiting for the sun to go down. Even when it dipped below the horizon, there was still enough light to see clearly all the boats and buildings around our pier. Being tired from all the traipsing around, we were ready to go to bed; but how could we sleep while it was still light out? Even closing the drapes did not help. We felt like we were in Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone".

Talking to one of the locals the next day about the light, she said most Russians stayed up late all summer, and caught up on their sleep on long, cold, winter nights. The Russians call these summer nights, "white nights," as opposed to black nights I suppose. It was true that there were lots of people outdoors and in the cafes, enjoying the warmth and the daylight.

We had chosen these dates for the trip over a year earlier, and had never considered the solstice is our plans. As it turned out, it was a wonderful time to tour the countries of the Baltics because there was so much more time (daylight) in which to see the sights.

I like to sit on the balcony when the ship is moving in and out of the ports. I like to watch the refueling and loading of cargo, and I especially love to see the small, quick pilot boats bring harbor pilots onboard to navigate the more treacherous waters near the shore. I definitely had more time to do all this in the Baltic. It was like getting a couple of extra days of traveling, as long as you could appreciate it all on less sleep.

I would especially have enjoyed that extra daylight when we were on another cruise which terminated in New Orleans. There is about a hundred miles of river between the ocean and the city, and I wanted to see it.

Forcing myself to stay awake that last night, all I saw were the incredibly bright lights of oil rigs and refineries, surrounded by miles and miles of blackness.

Every year on the date of the summer solstice I think about all the folks in Russia and the other northern countries enjoying their time of the white nights. I am glad I got to enjoy it with them at least once. These days I am happy to be at home in the Berkshires where the hours of darkness coincide with the hours I need for sleep.

Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.


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