Short Days and Long Nights

December 8, 2014  |  Permalink

Short days and long nights are what characterize December. In fact, the shortest day and the longest night of the year is the winter solstice which is on December 21st. After this day the days start getting longer but are still very short until the equinox on March 20th. This time of year is also prone to long periods of grey cloudy weather with rain and sometimes snow making the days seem almost like night. No wonder then that a lot of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or S.A.D., where you feel depressed and unmotivated. The best treatment for this malady is as much exposure to sunlight and/or daylight as possible. Some recommend getting up early, especially on sunny days, to insure you are not sleeping thru any precious daylight hours. Also recommended is getting outside, despite the cold, and soaking up as much light as you can. Your local greenspace or nearby state park can be your venue for the light treatment.

I really enjoy hiking in the winter. You can dress to be comfortable in most conditions. Of course you need to dress in layers so you can adjust to stay comfortable in changing conditions. I like the old adage ‘there is no bad weather, just bad clothing’. There are many advantages and rewards to winter outings. Besides being a great way to deal with S.A.D., it can be scenic delight with the open forest presenting many views hidden in other times of the year. Views from hills or blufftops can be especially rewarding. Worries about bugs and creepy crawlers can be forgotten and Poison Ivy is much harder to get.

The short days are a good time to visit waterfalls since the abundant precipitation is not all soaked up by thirsty plants and mostly becomes runoff. The falls are usually quite full this time of year. When freezing temperatures accompany the short days the falls can become fairyland castles of ice. The sprays from the swollen falls create massive works of nature art. The downside is the areas near this beauty can be very dangerous to travel and extreme caution should be used.

As the days finally start being noticeably longer I look for signs of the coming spring. It is a competition among my naturalist friends to be the first one to spot the earliest forest wildflower of the year. I have seen the Harbinger of Spring blooming in the Big Creek Gulf below the Great Stone Door at the Savage Gulf State Natural Area on February 20th. There is a lot to interest a naturalist in the winter woods even if there are no signs of spring yet to be seen. The overwintering birds are always a delight to see. The forest with its abundance of greys and browns are frequently decorated with the evergreen trees, shrubs, and ferns. So don’t sit in the house and get S.A.D., get out and enjoy a park and experience the therapeutic value. A great opportunity to do this comes on New Year’s Day with the annual first hikes at all the state parks. There are other outings led by Rangers or volunteer naturalists held throughout the winter. You can go on your own but be sure to let someone know your plans. Don’t be sad, enjoy the winter.

About the author

Randy Hedgepath

Tennessee State Naturalist Randy Hedgepath is a native of west Tennessee, where his family’s farm was just 15 miles from the Tennessee River. After graduating from UT Martin and working seasonally for several years for the National Park Service and Tennessee State Parks, he has spent the last 33 years with state parks. Randy worked as a ranger/naturalist at South Cumberland State Park on the Cumberland Plateau and at Radnor Lake Natural Area in Nashville until 2007 when he was given the opportunity to be the statewide naturalist for the state park system.