Saturday, August 21, 2010

August light

We lose over two minutes of sunlight a day now. We'll have lost 17 minutes by next weekend, well over a half hour in two weeks.

We're losing a couple of hours of light a week now.

The room was chilly this morning. The gas molecules zinging around the room are a little less energetic. The yellow jackets are crankier. Fall is coming.

Except for the very young, every winter takes its toll. And for the old, death becomes tangible.

The students return to the classroom as the light fades.

They sit under the hum of fluorescent lights, studious learning about "three" states of matter as the most common state in the universe, plasma, lights the words they are reading.

Go ahead, ask your child how many states of matter exist. Ask her how a fluorescent light works. Ask her why it hums louder before it blows.

We use our godly gifts without thought, without fear.

The God of Abraham spoke: Let there be light.

וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים, יְהִי אוֹר; וַיְהִי-אוֹר

I am not going to debate the intricacies of the Hebrew Bible here, and I am not a literalist. Still the Creation stories shed light on what mattered to the people that preceded us.

We turn on lights every day without thought, without worry.

Every. Single. Day.


Outside, the fading light has dramatic effects. Annuals toss off seeds as though there is no tomorrow. Perennials move sugars back to the roots, bunkering down for the winter.

Animals fatten up, or migrate, or lay eggs that will carry the life force long enough to last through the dark days.

And humans in these parts? We force children to break their natural rhythms, as we break ours.

It's rare when I have to sit through a whole day of classes, but even when the presentations are wonderful, my brain is rattled by the forced attention. I am exhausted by the end of the day.

And what do I do when I get home? I grab a beer and a cup of coffee.

What would happen if kids wandered outside more, went to sleep when night comes, and lived mostly under natural light?

(Yes, of course I know it's ridiculous, I'm not a complete moron--think of it as a thought experiment.)

The whole thing would fall apart, no?

The whole thing does fall apart, every year, as the life sustaining sunlight dwindles towards short, gray days.

Various organisms fall away when the dark descends, and the living slow down, waiting for the light to return.

The light will return.

But we won't notice. We cannot. We've forgotten how to see the dark.

Photo by Leslie


John Spencer said...

If you check out this post from my students' blog and go down to the fourth question:

He asks about this very phenomenon.

I looked at the list of questions. I'm not sure which ones are scientific and which ones are not. I don't even know the answer to many of them and I so badly want them to find the answers in some place that's not Google.

Any thoughts?

Tyler said...

The line, "I need a beer and a cup of coffee" made me laugh; because it's so true.

When I grow up, I want to write deep posts that make people think. Posts that make their reality waver, if just a little.

The Dirt on Soil said...

So... why does it hum louder before it blows? I've not heard this hum, by the way.

doyle said...

Dear John,

This wonderful question?
Why does winter make me so sleepy-tired but the summer heat makes me so tired-tired?

What a thoughtful observation--and I agree there's a difference between "sleepy-tired" and "tired-tired", but now the student has a tiny bit more work to do. How are the two different? Poke, poke, and poke some more.

What do mammals do in wintertime? Why? Which one allows you to flee in a hurry (if either)? Are you always tired in the summer? When do mammals eat in the desert?

I've got plenty of thoughts, but mine do not matter--your kids are doing a wonderful job without me.

doyle said...

Dear Tyler,

When I grow up I'd like my reality to become a bit more stable.

Maybe I shouldn't have mentioned the beer and caffeine--my point was that adults medicate themselves without thought while we drag kids through the same environment while screaming anti-drug messages at them. Maybe we need to turn the messages on ourselves. Or better yet, find a better way to teach.

doyle said...

Dear the Dirt on Soil,

Here's why the older lamps hum.

Now take it one step further--as the inductor/ballast gets "looser", the hum increases. Newer lamps use electronic instead of magnetic ballasts and apparently don't hum. I have lamps that are decades old. May be time to replace them!