Sunday, November 23, 2014

Darkness, Darkness, Our Old Friend: the Garden of Time




            It's beginning to look a lot like December.
            I keep trying to take photos of the sunset. But it's always too big and too far away, and my camera is too little.
            And it comes so soon!
            Here it is, a quarter hour short of four o'clock, and I can already spy pink beginning in the south-western sky.
            And why is everybody in such a hurry to get to this point?      
            About three weeks ago, the human beings in this part of the world agreed to a collective decision to go back to a "standard" time-setting convention that does not serve our best interests, called Eastern Standard Time. Massachusetts is at the far end of the Eastern Standard Time zone. All of New England sticks out into the ocean a ways further than the rest of the East Coast. That means sunrise comes sooner and dusk comes sooner here than it does in New York City, Buffalo, Pennsylvania, and lots of other places including Ohio, where our son lives, and even Detroit somehow edges itself into eastern standard time. Indiana is in "eastern" time zone!
            In Cincinnati it's about an hour later (on the clock) when the sun goes down than it is Boston.
            Not being (and never being) an early morning sort of person, many of my worst memories have to do with periods of employment that required getting up at absurdly unsympathetic hours. One of the biggest, and longest enduring. problems with American public education is that it always starts too early.

            Our collective societal notion of time management is still based on getting up at dawn to take advantage of natural light, the way farmers understandably still do and as most other occupations and industries had to before the widespread availability of artificial light, i.e., the sort of illumination that has been widely common for more than a hundred years by flipping a switch.
            Let's face it. Very few of us start the day by milking impatient cows.
            Up a little farther north, Canada's maritime provinces, which stick even farther east into the Atlantic ocean than we do,follow the Atlantic Standard Time zone, which sets the clock year-round to measure what we call Daylight Savings Time. The inhabitants of these time-wise precincts don't turn their clocks back, or "fall back" in the autumn, because their "standard" time is already better aligned to their location on the face of the earth. For the same reason, to give us more daylight when we need it, the Atlantic zone is the standard time zone that New England ought to be part of. (I'm borrowing this idea from a piece in the Boston Globe a month and a half ago by Tom Emswiler; the link is www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2014/10/04/why-massachusetts-should-defect-from-its-time-zone/zusFxWGPQmwv6bfUb1ssxH/story.html).
            Last weekend I slept too late on Saturday morning. After the usual leisurely weekend breakfast accompanied by a lengthy newspaper perusal, the clock said about noon before I made any motions to get out fo the house or "do anything" with my day.
            I drove to a park, took a walk, discovered a path that wasn't there the last time time I'd walked in that part of Quincy -- it's another extension to what Quincy waterfront walking activists are calling "RiverWalk" -- and so I explored it, and found myself walking along the Dorchester Bay shoreline as it headed south to the mouth of the Neponset River. On a clear day, with cold clear air, I could see the Boston skyline and across the bay I could see the Sister Corita gas tank (see photos) .
            Then I did some errands and by the time I got home I could see the pink in the sky.
            Light draining from the sky at four o'clock is just too soon.
            We use up enough energy as it is -- too much, as we now all know (or should) -- even in the best of seasons. Why force us to go indoors and turn on our lights and our devices and our toys and our heating systems sooner than we need to?
            Of course I could always adapt better to these quirks of "falling back" and "springing forward" in our "standard" time zone by getting up earlier on our brief northern wintry days.
            But I will never train myself to get up at dawn.