Winter Shadows

IMG_2438I saw my shadow today. It stretched out in front of me, long and slim, always making me feel thinner than I am, as I walked along the cobblestoned street, the bright winter sun shining on my back, still damp from my run in the snow. Ah, the sun. I had almost forgotten that it exists, as it has rarely shown itself in the last two months. 

Christmas has come and gone, and while Riga is a beautiful sight at this time of year, full of twinkle lights and decorated trees, I’d be lying if I said these dark days of winter haven’t been tough. With sunrise at 9:00 am and sunset at 3:40 pm – relative terms to mark the change from total darkness to heavily overcast and back again, the days have been short and gloomy, and I’ve had the mood to match.

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Opening night of Riga’s beautiful Christmas Market in Dome Square.

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Stars like these light up the bare winter trees.

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Another of Riga’s Christmas Markets.

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Trying to get in the holiday spirit at the Riga Christmas market.

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Our favorite alley in Riga… these stars are always here, but they looked especially dazzling at Christmas time.

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The Christmas Tree at House of the Blackheads in Town Hall Square. This is the site of the world’s first known decorated fir tree at Christmas time, back in 1510.

I had heard all about the dark winter days in this part of the world, but until I actually experienced them, the idea of a dark winter didn’t seem like such a big deal. I underestimated the gross difference between a 3:40 pm sunset and a 4:45 pm sunset… as well as between a 7:45 am sunrise and a 9:00 am sunrise. I haven’t been myself at all these last few weeks: the product of too little exercise, long working hours, and, undoubtedly, not enough sunshine. I’ve had little interest in the things I normally love, preferring instead to park myself in front of the TV, too exhausted most evenings to do much else. Although I have been faithfully taking a daily dose of vitamin D, nothing comes close to feeling rays of sunshine trying to penetrate my closed eyelids, warming not only my face, but my soul as well. Today, I felt that. And it was glorious.

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“Sunrise” on a recent morning. This photo was taken just after 9:00 am and is about the brightest it has been most days in the last weeks.

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Typically I make hundreds of holiday cookies every December. This year, I made just a few.

Now in the second of my blissfully long, three-week winter break from school, I am starting to feel a bit like myself again. I spent the first week resting and relaxing and admittedly, apart from a couple of evenings visiting with friends, being a bit anti-social. It’s quiet time that I’ve desperately been craving after a busy first semester and the realization that teaching in a school is not the right fit for me. It’s a realization I came to during my autumn break, after which I made the decision not to return to my school next year. Still, the school days are intense and it is wonderful to have a break from them.

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I spent the first three days of my break putting this puzzle together. I’d had it for at least five years, but had never worked on it. In the end, two pieces were missing.

M. had some time off work as well, and he, Frieda, and I spent a quiet Christmas together at home, catching up with family members on the phone and missing them from afar. We haven’t been very productive in the last week, and I’m starting to wonder for how long it is acceptable to blame our lack of productivity on the dark winter days.

Normally, at the very least, going for a run can turn a less-than-productive day around and leave me feeling refreshed, but the truth is, my running shoes have collected some dust in the last couple of months. I barely squeaked out 35 miles in all of November, and December is not looking any better. My knees have been bugging me, which, combined with total darkness at 6:00 am, 7:00 am, and even 8:00 am, has zapped all of my motivation.

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This just about captures how I’ve been feeling for the last six weeks.

This morning began as yet another dreary winter day in Riga, although with a fresh coat of powdery snow covering the neighborhood. Indeed, waking up to grey and drear day after day is reminiscent of the film Groundhog Day, a seemingly endless string of the same day, over and over again. I took Frieda for a long walk, wondering how I could break through my funk. We came home, and I made a fire in our wood stove, certain I would repeat my new routine of hunkering down on the couch with a cup of tea and a good book or movie. It wasn’t long before I saw some light peering through the kitchen window.

Could it be? I thought. Not certain how long the sunshine – or my sudden burst of inspiration – would last, I quickly changed my clothes, laced up my running shoes, and headed out the door. I ran straight into the sun, squinting with delight as it reflected off the fresh snow and not caring at all that I hadn’t even considered wearing sunglasses. I ran three slow miles, stealing glances at the clear blue sky while trying to dodge patches of ice on the ground. It was marvelous, the first truly beautiful day I had seen in a long time.

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A beautifully clear and sunny winter afternoon alongside the Daugava River.

When I finished my run, I stopped at home to pick up my camera and walked to the river bank to take some photos. It was there that I saw my shadow… also reminiscent of Groundhog Day, but in a completely different way. And though we most certainly have several more weeks of winter before us, I feel renewed in a way that I haven’t felt in quite a while. Amazing what a little run in the sun can do.

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Thank you for reading!

8 thoughts on “Winter Shadows

  1. I can sympathize though not fully relate to how deep that sad feeling (SAD feeling) must be. Are you using a light therapy lamp? A friend had experienced the lethargy and depression-like feelings as you described with the shortened days, and told me of how much it helped her. The description of your run, though, and the sheer enjoyment you felt with the brief sunshine, made me smile for you. Yes, so many things we take for granted are much more important than we know, until they aren’t there. light therapy lamp.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s amazing how much the sun – or lack thereof – can impact our mood and energy levels. Thankfully it looks like there are plenty of clear sunny days in the upcoming forecast!

    Liked by 1 person

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