That Solstice Time of Year

View from my window over the world heritage site at 23.49 on 7th June 2023

The Orcadian term for what we experience at this time of year is the simmer dim.
An Orcadian I know quotes an amusing account of the simmer dim: “Day doesn’t stop and everyone’s charging around wide eyed wondering whether to eat breakfast or go to bed. You go to bed at 2 in the morning and the sun is shining and the birds are shouting their heads off.”

We’re in the middle of the year – here the sun rises at 3.59 and sets at 23.30 at the summer solstice, but the dip behind the horizon is so slight at this latitude, that one can read a newspaper throughout the night in the garden without artificial light. The other really noticeable thing is that with our open landscapes and huge skies, one sees the sun set in the north-north-west and rise a few hours later in the north-north-east. We would also swear that sunset was later than the calendar says and sunrise earlier, because there is some sort of visual distortion which takes place. The scientist will tell us that different layers of the atmosphere have different refractive indices. This means that because of the very oblique angle at which the sun’s rays are reflected through that atmosphere the rays appear to be coming from a higher point than the actual location of the sun. I’ve watched the sun sitting above the horizon, yet my calendar tells me it is still to rise!

I’m certainly one of those who go around bleary eyed, zombified with lack of sleep. To sleep in a traditional tiny Orcadian bedroom with black-out blinds makes me claustrophobic, so I choose to sleep with curtains open, blinds not pulled down, and sleep fitfully for a few hours at most. I recall my father complaining about not sleeping when he was in his eighties. I said, quite sharply, “Well, just get up and do something!” Already on a nightly four hours’ sleep, I still craved more hours to work on all those things I wanted to achieve. I take my own advice. I’ve cleared the draining board, collected the washing, washed up, made a cup of rooibos, and started on my bi-weekly wisdom blog-post, whilst my better half is still snoring in bed.

I suppose my message here is to make the best use of one’s time. Most of us do not know how many years or days or minutes we have left to live. So, if I am waiting in the car to give a lift to someone who is a bit late, I will read, or if I haven’t thought that far ahead, I’ll work out a plot, or solve a problem in my head. Sometimes a casual observer will notice me playing a game of patience or sudoku, but these are pastimes for my hands, whilst my mind is ranging over the landscape of some imaginary world or exploring the character of someone who may appear in a story.

All too soon winter will be on us again with its endless hours of darkness and wind that will not allow one to open the door. In Wales, in our densely oak-wooded environment, I suffered from SAD: Seasonal Affective Disorder, falling into a deep melancholy, with episodes of despair with no tangible cause. I was wary that this would be so much worse here in the northern region of Britain. However I’ve been delighted to find it has not affected me at all. Orkney may have much shorter winter days, but the amount of sunlight reflecting from the open water of frequent lochs and the surrounding sea of the islands, never more than a hop-skip-and-jump away, have dispelled it.

That leaves me more useable hours, and in winter I may not sleep well as the bairns here are said to, if the slates are rattling on the roof and the wind howling in the chimney, but I have more of those valuable, productive hours than expected. Failing inspiration, I can marvel at an aurora that is known here as the Mirrie or Merry Dancers. I could use these hours, as Kimberly mentions, hanging out with my characters or as suggested by John, in answering questions about those characters

How do you use your time?


  1. I too loved this Gill. We have something of the same here in Gothenburg, but you’re further north by a degree and a half of latitude and that makes a difference. Our midusmmer night is slightly longer, and without the sea all about the winter nights are that much darker.

    I do notice that long summer days fill me with more energy and I have less difficulties getting up in the morning, but I still need my 6½ to 7 hours of sleep, and no matter how bright it is out, I’m yawning and my eyes are closing by about 10pm. Actually sleeping is more difficult, but a black-out blind in the bedroom helps. (Or a blindfold acquired on a long flight once, though I don’t sleep easily with it on.)

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