My seasonal depression begins during the Summer Solstice. For most Western people June 21st marks the beginning of summer, but for me it is the end; in fact, it’s the official first day of “Winter Is Coming.”
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Living in Moscow means you can’t just assume that you will get all the trappings of the Summer season from mid-May to mid-September. Sure, it could be sunny and breezy +27C with brisk overnight thunderstorms for the entire season. It could also be +12C and overcast or raining for weeks at a time. That’s low 50s Fahrenheit, for you Americans – so, like, Alaska weather.
But let’s assume the most reasonable scenario – the mix of these two extremes, plus all the in-betweens. I don’t know about you, but I – because I spend my weekdays in the office – mostly “process” weather on weekends. By all accounts May 2015 was glorious – sunny days, warm temperatures. But only Monday through Friday.
It rained EVERY. SINGLE. WEEKEND for a month following Russia’s Victory Day (and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Putin tinkered with Weather to make that happen). That meant no beach days or forest hikes or veranda cocktails for a whole month.
And before that? Save for a handful of sunny days, April was cold and overcast, and March… click here for a refresher on what March in Moscow looks like. Not much different from December or January or February, really.
Actually, after the surprisingly mild February (which doesn’t count as good weather, because the days are short, and the skies are overcast and everything is gray because Nature is still asleep), Spring positively refused to come in. Ever hopeful, I stowed away my fur coat in late February; in early March I took it out again. In late March I packed up my shearling, only to unwrap it in April. And by the end of April I had shed my pea coat, just to put it on again in May.
So, weather-wise, Moscow 2015 went from Winter straight to Summer – and then it rained.
And the frustrating thing is, I thought I could hack it this year. I thought that the Never-ending Russian Winter wasn’t going to be so never-ending this time around, because fortuitously I had shaved off a couple of months in the beginning with regular escapes to Europe. Nope. Nature was clearly punishing me for my optimism. Every time I thought, ‘this is it, Winter is over, let the good times roll,’ yet another spell of cold grayness set in, determined to suffocate me.
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When you can’t count on weather to usher in the change of seasons, the only reliable bellwether is the day length. Summer in Russia isn’t just about the sunset being pushed off for a few hours. In New York, the daylight difference between Winter and Summer meant an equally quick sunset at 5:30 pm vs 9:30 pm. In Moscow it’s lights out at 4 pm in December vs… well, never, really, in June. Ok, the skies slooooooowly turn dark navy rather than ink-black from midnight to 2 am. And then – hours of sunrise.
The 2 am Moscow sunrise.
My bedroom faces East. If I forget to draw the light-blocking curtains before going to bed, I am up by 4 am because of the sun shining in my eyes. It’s annoying but it is also glorious. I can get a head start on my day while the rest of the world is still asleep. I can stay at work till 10 pm and enjoy a 90-minute walk home zasvetlo (while it’s still light out). I can sip rooftop cocktails while watching the sunset – at 11:00 pm.
The 4 am Moscow sunrise.
June in Moscow is like a temporary portal into another dimension, where you are basking in infinite time and infinite possibilities.
Every extra minute counts and every extra minute is felt.
Which brings me back to the Summer Solstice.
After you’ve hit Peak Summer, every lost minute counts and every lost minute is felt. Even if the weather is perfect, with every day you have less time for a picnic, less time on the beach. By the time September rolls around, it’s fully dark when I leave the office. And then – the first frost, the first snow, heavy clouds, chilly stillness, oppressive grayness.
And just like that, it’s Winter again.