Wednesday I went for a Winter Solstice Walk with my sister and a couple of girlfriends. It wasn't quite as peaceful and scenic as I'd pictured.
Maybe the reason was because it was only about 27 degrees outside. But, I’m not complaining…much. After all, it wasn’t raining and that’s one thing Portland is known for. Here in Portland it’s said we don’t tan, we mold and we try to think of rain as liquid sunshine—at least that’s what we call it. We try to keep a positive perspective otherwise we all might go completely crazy because lots of us suffer from SAD. Yes, that is a real syndrome here in the Pacific Northwest: Seasonal Affective Disorder. And we don’t simply suffer in the winter. It’s prevalent in every season here. Why do you think they filmed the Twilight series here? There’s a reason vampiric movies are set in this location: it’s called darkness.
Anyway, we girls met at a local little pub (Goose Hollow Inn) to grab a quick bit and a hot beverage before we headed out for our hiking adventure. We were going to “Learn the "reasons for the seasons" and celebrate the return of the sun!”
Plus we planned on stopping to “listen for owls, coyotes, and other creatures as we hike. We will also be using our night vision and learn how nocturnal animals adapt to low light.”
I had no idea that “using our night vision” meant hiking through the trails without any flashlights . . . at all. We wandered around in the black of night through the trails that were completely draped in darkness (also known as tree-cover).
My sister grabbed the back of my hood and held on for dear life. She said, “Why did you wear black? I can’t even see you and you’re right in front of me.”
The guide said, “Not to worry. Your eyes will adjust in about ten minutes and you’ll be able to see like a nocturnal animal…almost.”
And he was right. After about ten minutes it didn’t feel like I was wandering around in a cave with a blindfold on. And, when we stepped out from beneath the tree cover, we could actually see the stars. It was beautiful.
Our guide sent out a few owl calls into the night sky. We all stood around hoping to hear an answer to his calls. Unfortunately, the only answer we got was when my cell phone went off. I forgot to turn it on silent. It was sooooo embarrassing. I quickly pulled the phone out of my pocket and tried to silence it. Unfortunately, these radical hikers weren’t so happy about the interruption. The guide called out,
“You’re ruining our night vision.”
And it was true. I felt like a mole who popped out of my hole: The light was blinding.
Then hoping to sooth the wild beasts (in our group) after that unpleasant technological faux pas, the guide pulled out some Wintergreen Mints for us all to chew. I was thinking, “The way to a woMan’s heart is through his stomach” but there was more to it than that. It was a science lesson rolled up into that little bitty sugary ring of goodness.
When we bit down on the little ring, it sent out an explosion of light inside our mouths. So, we all took turns chewing and watching.
Later, after I got home, I looked it up to see what the reason was for the sparks flying around inside our mouths and found out that “The light was produced by the wintergreen flavoring. Methyl salicylate, or oil of wintergreen, is fluorescent, meaning it absorbs light of a shorter wavelength and then emits it as light of a longer wavelength. Ultraviolet light has a shorter wavelength than visible light. So when a Wint-O-Green Life Saver is crushed between your teeth, the methyl salicylate molecules absorb the ultraviolet, shorter wavelength light produced by the excited nitrogen, and re-emit it as light of the visible spectrum, specifically as blue light -- thus the blue sparks that jump out of your mouth when you crunch on a Wint-O-Green Life Saver.”
At one point, I heard one of the hikers calling “Phil, Phil…” I turned to see if she was okay and she looked fine so I went on my way.
Later, Phil started calling to his wife. I told him she had been calling him a bit back. He looked concerned. He pulled out his phone and called her. Then, he told us she was fine. She’d just gone off on her own.
Who wanders off in the dark, on pitch black trails at night. . . by themselves?
Obviously some people are more daring than me. I never would have left the group to wander the trails alone. She must have been a little more than mad. . . at her husband.
Anyway, it was a wonderful way to spend a winter night.
At the solstice hike, I learned a little, walked a lot and shared an interesting adventure with my sister and a couple of friends. And, now the days will be getting longer and the nights will become shorter. That is definitely something worth celebrating—especially here in Portland where the planet seems to linger in the darkness a little more than most places.