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Sånn er det: Under the Midnight Sun

21 June 2011

It was almost midnight last night when I remembered that our cat was still outside. I had already been in bed for fifteen minutes so it was with reluctance that I left the comfort of my duvet, put on my bathrobe, and stepped out our front door.

We were in Italy last week and I had momentarily forgotten what midnight looked like in June in Bergen. In Tuscany it is dark after 9 p.m. and there I welcomed the reminder of the moon and stars that it was time to sleep. Last night the sky seemed to say, “What are you doing in your bathrobe and pyjamas at this time of day?” Or maybe that was my own voice as I realized that my neighbors could clearly see my mismatched pyjamas. I pulled my robe together and tied the belt but could not bring myself to shout out into that light and quiet world, “Here kitty, kitty!”

Although in Bergen we do not experience the true midnight sun of the northernmost regions of Norway, dusk occurs at around 1 a.m. and the light of dawn appears at 2 a.m. This lack of darkness is almost as discomforting as the lack of light in winter, when the sun sets at 3:30 p.m. In winter I feel like curling up for a twelve-hour sleep after dinner; in spring my pulse shouts at unreasonably late hours, “Is it too late for a mountain hike? Maybe I should do some shopping!” For much of the year it is either impossible to wake or impossible to sleep. I find myself wondering, What sort of place is this? What sort of people decided to settle here in what could only be a considered a natural habitat for bears? (I know the answer! Vikings!)

Both the winter and summer solstice are celebrated with fire. (Note: Vikings Norwegians celebrate everything with fire.) This past December at 8:30 a.m. on the shortest day of the year I huddled around a bonfire in the backyard of the preschool with sleepy-eyed children. Holding our cups of hot cocoa, we gazed into the orange fire as it brought a giddy happiness to the blackness that covered up everything else around us. “Tomorrow,” I remember saying to the children in a dramatic whisper, “Tomorrow we begin heading towards the light of summer.” This statement struck them as one of those weird unintelligible things adults say, but their befuddled faces did not diminish my excitement. June. We were now heading towards June.

Bonfire in Bergen on Midsummer's Eve. (Photo by Nina Aldin Thune, courtesy of Wikipedia.)

And now, six months later, we are ready to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve. We will not realize how late it is as we stand around an enormous bonfire that leaps dangerously out in all directions, chasing away the evil spirits that run loose when the sun begins to turn southwards. Beneath the blaze, in the pile of wooden crates stacked as high and precariously as possible, lies a truth everyone else will ignore: “Tomorrow we will have two minutes less of sunlight.” I hear the dramatic whisper of my own voice killing the joy of the party. “But don’t you see? One week from now we will have fourteen minutes less of sunlight!” The evil spirits running loose will take the form of my southward-turning mood. Six months from now the sun will not rise until almost 10 a.m.

But I am not ready! I silently cry. We have just begun, haven’t we? Surely it’s not time to head into darkness yet! I watch the clock as it ticks away. At 1:16 p.m. today the sun will reach its highest point. Sånn er det. And in two months’ time I will once again welcome the ability to sleep.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunt Judy permalink
    21 June 2011 12:11

    I guess I hadn’t thought about how things are so different in Bergen (in many way it turns out!). A check of a world atlas, or thinking about longitudes and latitudes, might have given me pause. But thanks Jena, for your story. It was soooo interesting. And you make it funny too. I like that. I like to think that all my wrinkles have been caused because I much prefer laughing over worry (but I know they’re likely caused by too much time in the sun). As I have told you before, you have much writing talent, and I really appreciate reading your works. Keep it up….

    • jenaconti permalink
      22 June 2011 10:17

      Thanks, Judy! I try to laugh about things here so I don’t sit in grumpiness all the time! 🙂

  2. John Duncan permalink
    21 June 2011 23:30

    Jena, I recall climing a tall hill in Nelson, NZ with hundreds of townspeople to view the sunset on Dec. 22 (I think). They were celebrating in their own unique way. Fire, music and many people in garish costumes. The beginning of the end of summer for them, but, the opposite effect for this Hoosier. Keep writing…… John

  3. jenaconti permalink
    22 June 2011 10:19

    I would love to go to NZ sometime but can’t imagine surviving that flight! I wonder how similar it is to Norway in climate and geography. Strange to think of Christmas in the summer!

  4. 22 June 2011 14:15

    And not to mention getting the children to bed at night. Hubby and I sat outside drinking tea last night at 10.30pm – it felt like in the middle of the day!!

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