Walking at Night during Winter, part 2: between Darkness and Lights

The darkness is one of the great challenges many face in winter. It can lead to depression and danger. But it also has often been pointed to as a chance for reflection, including a time for spiritual awareness. As with most aspects of winter, we can find things to appreciate about winter weather during the darkness, if we go and look for them. We can experience the dark, adjust to walking without being able to see much – and we can make use of the lights around us. (For my reflections on walking when the moon is fuller, see “Walking at Night during Winter, part 1: Ground Illumination.”)

Lightposts at night in winter almost always make me think of the moment just through the wardrobe into Narnia. I get a bit of a magical feeling; plus the pleasure of being temporarily in a circle of light. Light in the distance can, at any season on a night walk, feel a bit like will o’ wisps (and I can see why people in earlier eras came up with creative stories to explain little flickers that remained outside of full sensory awareness…). One can’t quite be sure what the source of that light in the distance is, or what it is luring you on to…

(A separate post could be written on the Christmas decoration lights we put out – not so piercing, cute little spots of light. And such lights are linked closely to our experience of holidays, so we tend to associate them with nostalgia and memories of such joys.)

On the other hand, once one’s eyes adjust to night’s level of light, these artificial lights can feel piercing, intruding. When snow is falling, the snow extends artificial light’s physicality in the air; it becomes a cloud, not just a beam.

Falling snow also muffles artificial light; it no longer extends quite as far – it is held back to a certain zone, and then the falling snow beyond remains unilluminated. Light that once shot out, flying far across our cities, is now limited. I appreciate snow placing some temporary limits on the human ability to transform the landscape, letting me see more of nature’s power to shape.


Out in middle of a snowy field, in the mostly-dark… I find something calming about that. This is as isolated as one can feel in a city, perhaps? On a clear night, one can see the stars above. (On the other hand, when the moon is bright, it lights the landscape more than it does during any other season.)

On a dark night, there is little I can see near me. I am distanced, during heavy snow, by the fact that it will take me longer to travel to what I can see. The cold feels like it spaces me further; I am set apart, some presence holds me away from what I see. I am not quite part of this landscape. But I can go out and be amidst it.

I step, step through a snowy field in a local park. Do I watch my shoes? No, I don’t really have to. I am apart, walking across a field. Movement through snow is difficult enough that small spaces provide more of an exercise, experience, perhaps even adventure. I remember to look around, see what I can. Some areas are lit by lamps – here I can really look at snow, sometimes clean sheets of it.

Then I move back to the dark, where I can barely make out dimly-lit snow. I have pleasant surprise of coming upon drift patterns that had been hidden. I knew basically what would be there, but I had to wait to find out in more detail. The adventure of not quite not knowing what would come up next.

About MilwaukeeSnow

Dr. Jeffrey Filipiak, Milwaukee's Ambassador of Snow, loves winter, Milwaukee, and environmental history! He has taught college courses on topics including history, writing, environmental ethics, food studies, the Great Lakes, and sustainability. You can contact him at ambassadorofsnow@gmail.com.
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