I like the axial tilt of the Earth.

It gives us seasons, a gradual change in the amount of sunlight—or darkness—we experience throughout the year. In Arizona, where I lived for 37 years, there were easily noted gradual changes.  In June,  sunrise hovered over the Pontatoc Ridge, viewed from my kitchen, for several weeks, and I could actually notice a few seconds difference each day after June 10th, as the sunrise gradually became later.  Sunrise was later than the official time, because of the horizon, it was about 5:15 am, 45 minutes earlier on the valley floor.  About five days after the solstice, I could just notice that the sunrise was a little further to the south than it had been.  You can’t tell the exact solstice by looking at the horizon each day, but you can be close.

At sunset, the changes weren’t quite as visible since the horizon was neither raised nor sharply defined, but starting in early July, the sunset gradually became earlier, after 11 days in a row at 7:34 pm.  After twilight, it was dark by 9 pm, without the long twilight I was used to in the northerly latitudes where I grew up. Darkness comes earlier in the lower latitudes, even more dramatic near the equator. This is because the ecliptic, or the path of the Sun, Moon, and planets as seen from the Earth, is more vertical at the equator, and has a smaller angle with the horizon the further north or south one goes.  That smaller angle is why twilight lasts longer, because after the Sun sets, it is moving significantly north as well, so much of its motion below the horizon is transferred northward and not westward away from the horizon. That results in long twilights.

Now, with the Senate having passed a bill mandating universal daylight savings time, I wonder why we can’t just have universal standard time. As Brian Brettschneider, Alaskan climatologist, posted, “amount of daylight saved: 0.”  We would be better off using the German term “Sommerzeit,” or “summer time.”  We’d be even better off using standard time. That is why it is called standard. 

Arizona will not likely change from being on MST; I never heard an Arizonan complain that there was no daylight savings time. The last thing anybody in the desert wants in June is sunset at 8:34 pm, or in January sunrise at 8:24 am. One of the few pleasures about living in the desert in summer is that it gets dark by 9. It may still be—and it usually is—hot, but with darkness comes hope for cooler temperatures. I live in a world where sun is generally considered good, rain bad, light good, dark bad, and days with rain are dreary and bad whereas sunny days, even with wildfire smoke, are good. To me, summer in the 21st century is overrated, overheated, “overdry,” and “oversmoked.”

In Arizona, I always knew when GMT was—7 hours ahead of local time. Here in Oregon, I can never remember if it is 8 or 9 hours, and I don’t like the sudden change of more darkness in the morning when it had been slowly getting lighter, and more light in the evening, when it had been getting gradually lighter. It grates. I like the gradual change in light throughout the year, especially the gradual lessening of daylight in summer, for up here, summer is no longer on July 5, which is what people told me when I moved here. It’s a five month stretch between May 1 and October 1, just like Arizona, only drier and a little less hot. Unless we have a heat dome.

In Arizona, I knew June 10 that the Sun was going to rise later for the next 7 months. In 11 more days, the solstice would occur, when the Sun would stop getting higher in the sky.  Two weeks later, the Sun would start setting earlier, and I had the sense at least that summer was moving along astronomically, even if not meteorologically.  

I’m not alone. I commented in the NY Times a couple of years ago about an article written near the winter solstice, looking forward to more daylight, and wrote what became one of my 35 “Times Pick”s.  While I didn’t include the replies, they all agreed with me. I struck a chord.

I will be a contrarian and say I like the rain and the dark days. They belong, too.

I think summer is overrated; last summer came with wildfires, smoke that kept me in the house for 10 days, and a concern of evacuation. Three of the last four years there have been significant west Cascade fires. I led a volunteer crew yesterday into the damp woods to repair a trail, creeks and rivers roaring with the water that finally came.  It was lovely.

Mind you, I counted 65 different species of wildflowers on my spring walks, I am an avid canoeist, and autumn is my favorite season. But leaving the trail yesterday with dark clouds overhead, an early sunset, and rain starting to fall, I was happy.

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In Oregon, the end of standard time will mean that for 3 1/2 months a year, from mid-October to the end of January, sunrise will occur on or after 8:30 am. Children will be walking to a school bus with a flashlight. True, sunset will be later, but what is wrong with sunrise at 7:30 and sunset at 4:30? Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, whom I otherwise deeply respect, dislikes the 4:30 sunsets in Rhode Island. Well, he lives in a northern state at the eastern end of the Eastern Time Zone. Go to New Brunswick, the next stop east of Maine, and you are on Atlantic Time. That’s why it is dark there early. There is no way you can change the fact that there are 9 hours of daylight. Please stop trying to.

“White man thinks if he cuts off a foot from the top of the blanket and puts it at the bottom of the blanket, that somehow the blanket is longer.”

I take my canoe trips near the autumnal equinox. When I base camp, I can watch the change and time in sunset and sunrise location nightly, weather permitting. It’s interesting to see it, and viewing is an important part of each day on the water.

In January, the sun runs slow relative to the clock. That is why sunsets are noticeably later in early January than they were in December. But it is also why sunrise is delayed and it is dark in the morning. Add another hour to this already delayed sunrise, and it is going to look more like night than it will morning.  Not only does the white man think the blanket is longer, he (and probably should be he, here, since women are smarter) thinks sun time and clock time are the same, when they are most definitely not.

From “Our Environment, How We Adapt Ourselves to It,” Revised by my father, Paul E. Smith, Allyn and Bacon, 1964.”

Equation of Time. This shows how the sun time varies relative to clock time throughout the year. When negative, or slow, the sun “appears” to be slower to rise and slower to set, so dark mornings and lighter evenings in January. When strongly positive, like October and early November, the sun “appears” to run faster, and sunset occurs earlier, so hence the suddenly appearing dark evenings in October.

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