As some of you may recall from earlier columns, we migrated north a few years ago and continue to delight in the many ways our new home enriches us. Here I’d like to make another observation. I suppose it’s obvious to most of you, but I hope you can see the wonder with a little digging.
If you live down south, you see the sun a lot. Like, every day, for about 12 hours. Here we have actual weather that changes, and on top of that we get seasons. Of course, we knew about the rain. In fact part of our choice moving here was that it made sense to us to go where the water is. What we didn’t really appreciate was how much things change throughout the year. Wheeling around the sun is hard to ignore up here.
When you move north you slide under the sky, toward the pole, toward the axis of rotation. We spin on that axis every day, but more to my point, the tilted axis gives us these seasonal long days and long nights. And “day” becomes a relative term. These “days” the sun barely sneaks over the ridge and the light trickles through the trees, which somehow suck all the heat out of it.
Looking uphill into the feeble light, my grass casts shadows. Lawns are flat where I come from; since they don’t have much water, people often replace them with sheets of furry green plastic and think they haven’t lost much. Here they have depth, a richness that feels alive but soft and sleepy in the winter. And the nights are so long.
I love it. Being lazy and pretty retired, I can justify a lot of sitting, which is nice. Dark and wet and cold out? Maybe I’ll read, maybe have a snack.
And then comes summer. The sun pours down bright and hot, and you think that’s got to be enough for today, and it’s not. When it finally sets, then comes hours more of daylight. So relentless.
We look forward to every season up here.
When the downy blanket recedes and the sky is clear, it’s easy to see where we fit in all this spinning. The Earth is rolling us away from the sunset, then rolling us back into the dawn. The axis points us at the summer sun, and later into the cold deep space of winter. Especially when the sun and the moon and the stars all chase each other toward the western horizon, I try to fit my own motion into the broader context of space.
Maybe take this mental ride with me. We know the orbit of Mars around the sun is outside that of Earth’s. So how is it that I can watch the sunset, and sometimes see Mars and the sun in the same direction? It must be that Mars is on the far side of the sun reflecting light back at me. So far away.
I sometimes think about this stuff the way I saw it in third grade, Earth conveniently oriented with us at the top orbiting with the other planets on a level disc. The deep night sky can transport me into the larger picture, everything in motion, where up and west and time all stretch into a landscape I can barely imagine. With a little vertigo, I grip my deck chair, trying not to fall up.
It’s all about perspective. If you keep your eyes down and your thoughts immediate, normal life can be simple and sweet. But I think looking up helps me keep my perspective.
These days, most people I see looking down are looking at their phone. Not sure how it’s going for you, but the world I see in my phone is often unpleasant, occasionally nasty, and sometimes freakin’ horrible. How many times does your phone show you something the only reasonable reaction to is: “How can people be so stupid?”
Of course, outrage is what makes our phones most satisfied, and apparently our phones must be satisfied, like baby chicks. I’m tired of filling their gaping maw with my clicks and my time. We told our kids not to waste too much time with video games. How did that work out for you? It’s especially frustrating since everyone I actually meet is so nice. If we just look up a little, like to meet a neighbor eye-to-eye, we might find the world is still kind and helpful and smart.
I think our sky can save us from our phones. My exercise program is to look “up” to the sky for at least a few minutes every day, and try to picture how I’m spinning through it. Try it. It’s hard to get it all in your head. I gave up on sit-ups a long time ago, but I’m sticking with my big perspective workout. I still look at my phone too much, but it comforts me to remember how small it is.
Jack Dunne lives gratefully in Lakebay.
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