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August 08, 2006

Shorter Days ... Oh My!!

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I get up early, and I notice things.

Right now I'm noticing that the sun is no longer up (or nearly so) at 5 a.m. Matter of fact, it's now pretty dark at that hour.

Moreover, some hasty week-counting on my pocket calendar tells me we're approximately half way between the summer solstice and the fall equinox.

That's important.

You see, I block out the year in terms of solstices, equinoxes and how rapidly the number of daylight hours change from day to day. I could hop on the web and locate a daily sunrise-sunset table for my area and graph the results. And maybe I should, though I probably won't.

Why not? I'm a data guy after all. Hmm. Can't come up with a rational answer. I was about to wildly claim that some of my ancestors were Druids who simply liked to synch with nature. But that won't fly high because those crafty Druids or some friends or rivals built Stonehenge, a giant calendar or sorts.

Maybe I won't do it because it might take some of that satisfyingly primitive fuzziness from my mental exercises. Plus there's an emotional factor I like to hone and that data might dampen: I hate winter.

Yes, yes. Hate is not a family value, quoth the bumper sticker. But I slogged through four Albany, NY winters and hated them all.

Rather than looking at a year's progression in a calendar sense, I tend to view it in term of light and darkness. Which leads me to dividing the year into four parts: the six or seven weeks on either side of a solstice when the number of hours of light and dark are comparatively constant from day to day and the six or seven weeks surrounding an equinox when change is rapid.

Right now we're entering the rush towards longer nights, and I'm not pleased. Six months from now, I'll have a sunnier attitude, if you get my drift.

When I was young, I didn't think this way at all. I simply took the seasons as they came. Sure, I knew it was dark a lot in winter and twilight lasted till past 10 p.m. in late June (here in the land of the 47th parallel -- results may differ at your house due to latitude and how close you are to a time zone boundary).

I doubt that I'll ever go back to those carefree days of letting the seasons roll by. And it's all Albany's fault.

Which leads me to recall a fellow I knew who was totally oblivious to the kind of seasons I've been talking about.

He was my contact guy at one of my automobile company clients, so we got to know one another fairly well -- went out to dinner with the wives in tow when they passed through town on the way to Australia -- that sort of thing.

Anyway, once he told me his seasons story. You see, he was born and raised in Colombia where the days and nights were both pretty much 12-hour affairs throughout the year. He found it a strange and difficult adjustment when he went to college in the Midwest and soon had to face winter: first the longer nights, then the snow and cold. But he managed somehow, never permanently leaving the Midwest from then through the time I worked with him.

One final thought in this ramble.

I'm not sure how well I could tolerate seasons were I to live significantly farther north than I do now. In Edmonton, Alberta, say. Or Stockholm or Helsinki, let alone points farther north.

Another friend of mine is of Swedish descent and has spent a few years in the Sweden/Finland area. He claims Scandinavians get all moody/broody in winter and then go kinda nuts when summer comes.

Not for me, thank you.



posted by Donald at August 8, 2006


I also am up at 4 or 5AM and conscious of the darkness. In fact, it's just past Lammas, which is the point in the year when the wheat crop is ready to cut and the first ceremonial loaf of bread is baked. The wheat here is about ready for sure and some of it is already cut. I bought some yeast. My problem is that it's still 90 degrees in the daytime and I don't want to bake. If I can find some oven roasting bags for turkeys, I'll make me a solar oven and see how that works. I've got the tinfoil and the right sized boxes, plus the directions.

The wind is blowing hard this evening -- will probably rekindle the forest fire on the border between Glacier Park and the rez. This time of year is always smoky. We often have a snowstorm over Labor Day. (It's the altitude -- not the latitude.) Doesn't sound like a bad idea. At least that's my 'tude.'

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on August 8, 2006 10:51 PM

The yearly light cycle where I live in south Georgia is quite pleasant. Even in the winter, we still get a 50-50 split in daylight/darkness. (Summers are too hot, though.) I remember one winter I spent in Germany and it was just getting light at 10:00 a.m. and settling into darkness around 3:30 p.m. The experience of only one of those winter seasons was plenty for me. I got grumpy enough to want to invade something.

Posted by: Charlton Griffin on August 9, 2006 7:36 AM

Some people are more sensitive to winter/summer and day/night changes than are others. At one extreme are people who are almost the human equivalent of indoor cats and pay little attention to the natural world outside of whatever man-made structures they happen to be in. At the other are people who go nuts if they are not outside in the sun for hours every day. It can be a problem if you are near one extreme and your spouse or associates are near the other. My experience from Chicago, which is not at particularly high latitude but has long and bleak winters, is that people who are much bothered by the climate tend to migrate to sunnier regions if they can. Whoever's left tends to either hate the place or is indifferent to the bad weather. This makes for an odd vibe sometimes, because you keep meeting people who can't understand why you might prefer to live somewhere else. I can't imagine what Stockholm in the winter is like.

Posted by: Jonathan on August 9, 2006 9:01 AM

When I lived a few years in LA, it took conscious effort to remember what month it was. The usual cues were so muted; it felt weird after a while. One time I was teaching cub scouts about trees. A neighbor had cut down a pine in his front yard, and I took a section of trunk from him to show the boys tree rings. But the trunk didn't have rings! The trees of LA can't tell spring from winter either.

Posted by: John Mansfield on August 9, 2006 11:31 AM

P. Mary gives good advice! I just loathe the summer's heat here in North/Western Virginia; this leads me to twist myself with the question, "Why do you choose to live here, then?" One I should have put to myself too many years (and boxes of books) ago. So, I remind my child to think of things like this as she grows up, and makes decisions.

Posted by: Celeste on August 9, 2006 1:04 PM

Living in New York State (Finger Lakes region) as I do, I've come to the philosophic conclusion that winter is the price we upstate New Yorkers have to pay for our glorious spring, summer and fall.

Otherwise I'd go nuts. ;^)

Posted by: ricpic on August 9, 2006 1:56 PM

Being a true Northerner and having grown up in Minnesota, I hate hate hate the lack of seasons in Northern California. In the spring, when the hills are all green, it just hurts my heart because it's all so fleeting -- a couple of weeks and it's all gone brown -- okay, "golden," in the state's PR vocabulary.

Since I'm not much of an outdoors person, I don't mind the darkness in winter (although I'm not all that fond of having to get up in the dark). More time to curl up with a good book!

Posted by: missgrundy on August 9, 2006 2:58 PM

On a trip to London in January 2004 I was taken aback at how early it got dark. Then I realized that the latitude was well to the north of anywhere in the United States outside Alaska.

Posted by: Peter on August 9, 2006 3:25 PM

Having a sense for when it gets dark is very useful for, say, knowing whether the discount "twilight" starting times at a golf course are worthwhile: e.g., you can save $40 by waiting until 3 pm to tee off, but can you finish 18 holes before dark? But even among golfers, this kind of knowledge seems to be rare.

Posted by: Steve Sailer on August 9, 2006 3:50 PM

My happiest summer was spent camping with my boys in Fairbanks two years ago.

I can't explain it. Perhaps twenty-hour daylight makes for a contented, peaceful summer. We lacked all urgency since the day was long enough to do all we wanted. And then we slept soundly.

I HATE winter. Detest it. Ten years of exile in the northeast and Chicago have left permanent, scarring memories. Dark, grey days were so bleak and depressing and winter never seemed to end. I remember crying when the leaves began to fall because I knew that winter was soon to come.

The emotional/spiritual malaise didn't life until the first crocuses appeared in the snow -- harbingers of happiness.

Now I live in a desert with its stark, white sunlight and pale, stretched shadows. I'll never leave.


Posted by: Kris on August 9, 2006 5:56 PM

Absolutely. The desert is best. The tropics are pretty good too. The main thing is to get away from long, dark winters.

20 hrs of sunlight a day sounds about right. Where can I get that year round?

Posted by: Jonathan on August 9, 2006 9:54 PM

Actually, Jonathan, the closer you move to the equator, the LESS variability in the length of the day--they all start at around 7am and the sun goes down around 7pm!

We probably get the longest days around here in the midwest/south, northern tropics--sun up at 5:30 am and sets at 8:30-9:pm on June 21. Up north, they have the land of the midnight sun, but only for a little while. You would have to be a migrant to follow the long days, from nothern hemisphere to southern hemisphere, following the summer.

Posted by: s on August 10, 2006 10:40 PM

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