Contextualizing the Ten Weeks of Darkness

As of yesterday, those of us in the plains region of the United States had finally exited the “darkest ten weeks” of the year. For the five weeks leading up to the winter solstice (December 21) and the five weeks after, our day is at most 10.3 hours long, getting as short as 6.5 hours on the solstice itself. We’re out of the year’s darkest period, and given that it’s a balmy 40 degrees Fahrenheit here in Sioux Falls today, it feels like there’s a light at the end of the snow tunnel.

January 2024: Contextualizing the Ten Weeks of Darkness

  • “Episode VIII” — Madlib
  • “Black Coffee in Bed” — Squeeze
  • “Right Back to It” — Waxahatchee (w/ MJ Lenderman)
  • ”Blast” — Reflection Internal (w/ Vinia Mojica)
  • “Word is Bond” — Brand Nubian
  • “Everyday Sunshine” — Fishbone
  • “Big Island” — Pet Symmetry
  • “Hang On to Your Ego” — Frank Black
  • “Kids On the Boardwalk” — Hop Along
  • “You Can Be Mean” — Indigo De Souza
  • “Ghost Walk” — The Budos Band
  • “My Contribution to This Scam ” — Jean Grace & Quelle Chris
  • “GOLDWING” — Billie Eilish
  • “In a Jar” — Dinosaur Jr.
  • “Juanita” — Sturgill Simpson (w/ Willie Nelson)
  • “Cry Baby Cry” — The Beatles
  • “There’s a Ghost in My House” — R. Dean Taylor
  • “Girlfriend is Better” (Live) — Talking Heads

Listen on Spotify. Listen on Apple Music.

But what does that really mean?

Our lives move along the same parallels as the solstices and equinoxes. We are anchored in the same constructs of time, our bodies and lives age at the same rate as everything else. They move forward, independent of outside influence, despite our assurances that we can affect time and productivity and change.

With these constraints, it becomes important to anchor our lives in some kind of standard expectation. Do we look at the months after the fall equinox as a march toward darkness, focusing on the dwindling sunlight and the dropping temperatures? Do we look at the months around the summer solstice as a kind of aspirational perfection? How we view the passage of time and the ebb and flow of sunlight is dependent upon context — as is everything, always.


Last night, as Kerrie and I talked over dinner, with both of our teens off in their own worlds — working, hanging with friends, fending for themselves — we took stock of our world.

We were at a restaurant in one of the nicer parts of town, and the clientele proved it with a higher-than-normal percentage of Patagonia coats and nice shoes and willingness to spend Maybe Too Much on a sandwich that doesn’t even come with fries. We both made our independent judgments of these Very Pretty People and then, almost at the same time, sheepishly confessed that we kind of felt like assholes for making those independent judgements. That we jumped the gun, and immediately painted everyone as a kind of picture perfect, issue-free, nuclear family portrait.

More to that, I resented them for it. I felt betrayed. I didn’t understand how they could all be so normal and happy, especially when they didn’t even understand pain or suffering or hurt or mental illness or war or anything beyond their dinner.

And of course, this is ridiculous. We don’t know shit about any of them. We don’t know their pain or suffering, their hurt or mental illness. We have none of that context — and, while we’re at it, we hadn’t even provided any context for our own anxiety.

Over what has been a bit of a trying year, we had painted ourselves deep in the ten weeks of darkness — a trial to be overcome, an issue to solve. Yet, during dinner — because we are adults who spend a lot of time each helping others find context — we found ourselves building an expanded narrative around the darkness. We uncovered context. The big picture of raising teens. The changes that young minds go through as they push toward independence. The frustrations that aren’t ours alone, and never were in the first place.

They belong to everyone. We’re all in the dark, sometimes, and with luck, we all pull through. The passage of time continues, regardless of where we feel stuck.


There’s no significance around measuring the ten weeks around the winter solstice other than to provide context and hope. Each day moves both away from one equinox and toward another — every day measures time and sunlight and temperature the same way as every other. Ten weeks is, therefore, an artificial context — a stake where none existed, a claim that while it doesn’t matter, there should be something designed to break the monotony. To assume progress.

In reality, every year has two equinoxes and two solstices and they go back and forth and back and forth for the rest of our lives. Two ongoing waves swapping months, plunging the world into darkness and raising it back into the sunlight. The dark moments are just that: it depends on our context to decipher their impact. We can look at distant sunnier days and assume that winter is a kind of inescapable hell, or we can understand that winter is a part of the deal. To frame our lives around the bad, or to understand the balance. It’s what we accept in order to get warmer days.

I know that this feels like the beginnings of a Facebook Minions quote, but that’s not my intention. I just wanted to remind myself to remember the full picture. To remind myself that things always get warmer, even if it feels like they won’t.

This was lovingly handwritten on January 31st, 2024