There was a segment on the news the other night about how much daylight we’ve lost since the summer solstice, which was June 21st. It’s almost five hours. And Nashville is not at a particularly high latitude. Further north the days are even shorter. Although, technically, the daylight isn’t “lost”. It’s simply flown south for the winter.
I remember when I was a kid watching winter sunsets from my bedroom window and realizing the sun doesn’t really set in the west. At least not exactly west. It moves in the analemma, rising and setting at slightly different times and in slightly different positions from one day to the next—or rather only appearing to move as the Earth makes its orbit. Being taught that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, as though this was a fixed fact, seemed to me like lazy thinking. The truth was more complicated and any time I realized something was more complicated it became much more interesting. I started to realize that the cardinal directions are a convenient fiction. While they’re useful for finding your way to a specific place I realized that if you travel far enough north you’ll eventually start going south, just as east easily turns into west. And I had a friend who, any time a teacher would tell us, “Two wrongs don’t make a right” would yell out, “But did you know three rights make a left”
All this contemplation of direction started rolling through my mind this morning as I was rolling out to work and passed under a string of lights some of my neighbors hung over the street last year around this time—lights against the darkness. Then, apparently having decided it was too much trouble to take them down, they left them having over the street. For much of the year they’ve been invisible in the darkness and barely visible against the sky in the light.
Now after the sun sets they’re illuminated and remain that way all night, one fixed point in the darkness, a marker I passed under on my way, and will continue to pass under in darkness until the winter solstice passes and the days are long enough that I start each day after sunrise.