The shortest days of the year are upon us. Of course, we now have a scientific understanding of the solstice and the celestial cycles that are responsible for our changing seasons. But this time of year, it’s easy to understand how ancient humans must have wondered whether the sun would disappear beneath the horizon altogether, never to rise again.What rituals did they invent to coax the orb out of hibernation, to bring it back into their lives, melting the gloom and revitalizing the land in a burst of vernal rebirth? Today, we still try to dispel those deep-rooted fears with strands of twinkling bulbs, and if you consider Christmas in an allegorical sense, with the concept of eternal light itself.It’s not always easy to embrace the indigo shadows of twilight that sweep early across our mountain valleys. But I say rejoice in the icy heart of winter, for without cold there could be no warmth, and without darkness, we’d never know the light. It’s a quiet time, suitable for reflection, meditation and prayer, and it’s no coincidence we celebrate one of our holiest of days during this lull.Take comfort in the subdued glow of the sun, slanting low across hillsides and sneaking sideways through dense evergreens to illuminate every granule of snow with a light so intense it seems to come from within. Take heart in the crystalline burble of mountain brooks, lined by giant trees that quietly, patiently stand sentinel at the frozen fountain. Leave the lights off as dusk settles across the land. Sit by a window and watch as the winter night grows.Lipstick-colored clouds spattered across the western horizon kiss the day goodbye; then the colors drain away, leaving an inky black stain. Revel in the silent, satiny nights, when the stars seem to hang so low they could be plucked out of the sky.As much as I enjoy bright spring days and bluebird skies, this is my favorite time of the year to ski. The snow stays crinkly all day long, the mornings are bracing, and the fireplace in the lodge is more inviting than ever. On steeper, north-facing slopes, it’s almost as if time is standing still, even if it’s just for a few fleeting weeks. The snow seems to remain unaffected by the weather, caught in the time warp of a winter day. The sun barely crests above the ridge-tops, a pale, silvery imitation of itself. There is no yesterday, no tomorrow, only the intimate perfection of the moment. Take a deep breath and glide through the forest. Listen to your skis as they cut a papery swath through the frosting.Take a minute before you scrape the windshield of your car to admire the intricate design of the frost, billowing across the glass in a rhythmic blaze of curlicues and feathery spirals. What miracle is this that can create from air and water such pure art?Stop to admire a meadow or hayfield, at rest under a still, sparkling blanket. Is there anything more relaxing than this visual symphony of whites? A fence leans stoically into the wind. Gray, wizened stumps wear their slumping caps of snow like shrunken forest wizards.And far off to the west the next storm is brewing, as rivers of roiling, moist air swirl across the Pacific, rearing and heaving, then cresting and breaking into waves of snow and rain as they run into the first range of mountains along the coast. Working inland, the clouds thin as they spread across the great inland empire, then billow up once again along the rampart of the Continental Divide, spilling forth their life-giving essence in a floury, frozen mist of hexagonal crystals.Shovel them and sweep them and brush them, but don’t take them for granted.Contact freelance writer Bob Berwyn at email@example.com.