Climbing to the light
March 27 is a birth-day of mine. I like to count my sons’ birthdays as mine too – the days I birthed. It’s also a bit of a portal in the year-cycle, since That particular late-March day was dull, cold, and snowy, so it’s a useful warning against taking earlier warm ‘Spring’ days too seriously. I’m writing this while my second son’s (whose birthday this is) second son climbs, slides and rolls his way around the soft-play area of the local leisure centre. Today there is bright sunshine outside; the ripples in the pool are surface-bright in the ceiling lights and frisking shadows and blueshine on the bottom, where the windows let the daylight in.
This day is also why I don't need to wonder when the clocks will change - this birth-day and the day of my own birth stand close to clock-change at either end of the switch. Yesterday was a work-day – an on-campus work-day, and for the first time for what feels like ever I was home in the light, with enough of the light day left in which to stroll gently round the block with the dogs, clockwise rather than the routine morning widdershins, relishing how alternative an experience just changing direction can be, and bathing in the late-day, new SummerTime sunshine filtering through bare branches and their new baby leaves. Later, meal-making in the blind-drawn kitchen I mused at how blissful it was to have light at the end of the day, which took me to the truism of how long childhood summers are in memory, and how now, in age, it seems that the dark of the year is long, interminable.
The experience of time is so different from the clock- and calendar-measure which proposes ordered, linear progression of equal divisions and sub-divisions of stuff that we call time. Years and months are almost comfortingly messy, refusing to fit precisely into the tidy systems of Western culture. We’ve tidied the months by ignoring the moon’s rhythms, but the sun-year resists even our androcentrism, forcing the fudge of leap-years, and a periodic revision of what actually makes sense. Sept-, Oct-, Nov- and Dec-ember suggest a year start in March, but what about January, or Christmas? the feast of the Annunciation or some other March day? Does the start of the year need to coincide with the start of a month? And the academic year starts in September. (Might this all be why 'New Year' resolutions won't stick?) Julius Caesar had a go at managing time, then Pope Gregory VIII ordered a change to compensate for the Julian errors – though by his time Catholicism wasn’t catholic any more, so for the best part of 200 years, between 1582 and 1752, there were two calendars operating in Europe. England’s Enlightened parliament dictated another change to compensate for the Julian errors and ... Confusion was rife, clearly.
And yet the sun came up and went down, and the earth and the moon turned in their orbits in a rhythm as organic as creation, of which human-kind is a part, though we so often behave as though we weren’t. Folk ran their lives by those rhythms, because to those rhythms the crops grew and the beasts bred. There’s a lovely radio play by Alan Plater – Only a Matter of Time – in which an English engineer confronts a Welsh farmer. The railways are coming. Time must be standardised. So noon won’t be at noon any more? So where the sun is in the sky will no longer be an indication of what time it is? One kind of logic meeting another.
The logic of a woman’s fertility is the rhythm of the moon. One of my senseless regrets is that I didn’t really begin to grasp the complexities of this bodied clock of mine until its cycles had ceased. It’s a senseless regret, because there’s so much more awareness of the beats of womb and heart now than when I was growing into and through my bleedings. But this is a digression – except that it does return me to the elemental experience of that birth-day that began this musing.
And then the logic of railway time is further shifted by the desirability of conforming daylight to work-patterns. The clock change gives us longer days, apparently. Yet how in earth could it? But in mechanics and commerce, consistency is all. Having divided time-stuff into hours and minutes so as to be able to organise our daily routines, the only way to accommodate the system to the rhythms of our relationship to the sun is to shift the hour-numbers twice a year. Come the Spring, come that point in our turning when the time of the dark is the same as the time of the light, the clock change magnifies the tipping point, gifting us suddenly with light into the later hours, and as suddenly, at the end of a commuting and working day, there is energy in the pot to go for a walk.
Sun energy, that gives us back time at the end of the working day, that brings us out of hibernation, slackens the bonds of whatever form the defiance of cold and darkness our habits shape for us. Childhood Summers feel endless in hindsight. I don’t remember the Winters as being so, and yet in sun-time the share is equal. It’s easy to account for the apparent slow-motion of childhood compared with how rapidly the years pass in age: at three years old, a year is an entire third of my life. At 24 times that age the proportion is very different. It seems hardly credible that a quarter of this calendar year is almost done – wasn’t Christmas only last week? and yet the climb out of the darkness of Solstice to the tipping point of Equinox feels to have been long and steep, the well filled by last year’s sunlight almost drained dry.
However we humans slice time, and we slice it differently in different places, different cultures, it is the motion of the cosmos that we seek to catch and hold and call Time. How we meet that motion is governed by where we stand on the round Earth. How we experience it is governed by individual circumstance: age certainly, but mood, occupation, situation will all affect whether time ambles, trots or gallops for us – ‘time travels in divers paces with diverse persons’. And whether it travels in straight lines is by no means certain.
I am grateful to feel the return of the light that the inevitability of sun-time ensures and the clock accentuates.
I’m indebted to the University of Connecticut’s website for the historical info in this post.
Photos are mine, unless I say otherwise.