Morning Coffee, Winter Dark

Cold kitchen, hot kettle, northern light.

I move with the light. December slows me down, and I feel like the distant sun: barely rising on these short, dim days before falling out of view again. I haven’t spent the 12th month so far north in such a long time. The alarm pries me from a thick, warm comforter to the cold, dark air. The stars twinkle in the wintry sky as I head to the street for the morning paper (yes, in print, still). I set the kettle to boil, and when it’s done, it whistles like a train. (Really; it’s made to sound that way.)

My body doesn’t like the cold, but I can appreciate what happens at this latitude. I am always amazed at the light—the way it shuffles through time; the way the sky changes visibly in a matter of days or weeks. When we arrived in Montana in late July, the sun fell on the Clark Fork past 10 p.m. But every day since has lost a few moments of light.

That doesn’t happen in the tropics, in places far south where the sun rises and falls around the 6th hour of every morning and night. At 0 degrees latitude, the days and nights stay the same.

A couple of my students will experience that soon. As I write, they’re on a plane for Nicaragua, where they will meet and interview the farmers who grow coffee sold at shops here in the North and West. They will breathe warm, humid air while we shiver in the snow. They will watch the sun rise high overhead in a routine that never really changes. And they will drink their morning coffee in a light they can’t yet imagine.

Meanwhile, Jerry and I will pack the car and begin the long drive south, toward home. We will watch the days grow longer, the sky a little brighter, the sun at a different slant. I’m looking forward to our kitchen, its windows and the strong, steady rays that hit our table in the dead of a Southwest winter.

6 thoughts on “Morning Coffee, Winter Dark

  1. I appreciate the dislike of the cold months that you express here, and I see the only advantage of enduring them, is that coffee is that much more delicious in the colder weather.

  2. Thank you for the shout-out Karen. My it was muggy in Managua when we awoke this morning. The coffee sure tastes different in this climate. Like in Mexico, the brew here is a strange type of sweetness, though it is sipped with out sugar. I’m wondering if it is steeped to some degree with a bit of cane sugar. Now that we’re in Estelí, much farther norther and at a greater elevation, I’m sure the morning will be more brisk. It will be interesting to see how much the climate impacts taste buds. More to report later!

  3. Hi Karen,
    Beautiful words and pictures, inspired me to boil the kettle! Happy New Year to you both and I promise to stop by more often now that life has calmed down a bit..

  4. You write like I hope to write, or am practicing to write.
    I read a story of yours, “Salad Days in Burma,” in A Moveable Feast. I’ve only recently come home from three months in Bolivia, and can empathize with the desire to stay connected to people–friends–in cultures and places so different and far from our own. It’s so difficult, but so worth it.
    Thanks for keeping this blog! With this post especially, I can say I know what it is to wake up with the sun (and it actually comes up about four-thirty, in Bolivia!) Oy vey. The beauty.

  5. Maggie, thank you for such a beautiful compliment! And welcome home. I’m sure you will find your own way to stay connected to Bolivia — and its light.

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