Monday, November 17, 2008

November light

Sunset at 4:37 PM.
It will slowly get earlier, but not by much.
4:29 P.M. early December, before we start to get our evenings back.

It takes a million years or so for the energy released when 4 hydrogen atoms convert to helium--a loss of 0.7% mass converted to pure energy, energy spun out of the sun, most off which travels for eons, unfathomable distances, striking the surface of some mass millions of years later.

A few of these photons hit Earth.
Even fewer are caught by chloroplasts.
Even fewer than this caught by chloroplasts in November.

There are so few chloroplasts bothering to catch photons now that the CO2 levels are rising, as they do every winter when the green plants rest. The CO2 concentration will fall again come spring, when the plants wake up.

Spring is impossible to imagine now, at least for mey.
I do not trust words. I do not trust photographs. I do not trust my memory.

I trust my nose in mid July, buried in tomato plants climbing up towards the tangible god that drives life on Earth.

Alaunus. Amaterasu. Aodh. Arun. Belobog. Freyr. Helios. Mithra. Ra. Sol. Surya.

Jesus "I am the light of the world."
And the light is dying.

Teaching science without acknowledging the mystery of the unknown does not work.

Shine a fluorescent light on chlorophyll extract, very easy to make.
Shred up some spinach leaves, swirl around in 95% ethanol, then filter.

Chlorophyll extract is deep green.
Under a fluorescent light chlorophyll is is opaque red.

Don't take my word for it--do it. It takes little time.

Electrons get excited, then collapse, releasing energy, blood red light.

The perennial plants have more sense than humans, at least those of us born under electric light.

The perennials have stored the energy captured from the sun into their roots. The plants trust that spring will come.

Modern humans?
Lights, alarm clocks, lights, clocks, lights, schedules, lights, televisions, lights, monitors, lights.

When the sun barely noses 30 degrees above the horizon, we should be resting.
There's no guarantee we'll see spring.

I avoid discussing Christmas in class.
Oh, you're one of those PC types, eh?

No, in December I'm one of the Yule types--and Yule predates Christianity.

I'm in awe of the sun, and despite (or maybe because of) a rudimentary grasp of its physics, I remain in awe.

Science is driven by awe. We say it, and we forget it; the words become platitudes in a culture defined by a Christianity now rarely practiced.

Awe. Dread. Terror.

If the failing light does not inspire fear, you need to stop hiding behind words and rationality.


Kate T said...

The failing light does terrify, but soon the light will begin to return. All of my daughters were born at light returning moments on the wheel of the year. Emily on Dec 20 (moments from the solstice that year) and Hannah and Sophia on February 2 (Imbolc - the celebration of the return of the light). We who do not produce chlorophyll use the stored energy of those who do and wait.

With hope.

And I remember the birth of daughters (with twins at the returning of the sun) and know that fear of the dark is secondary to the hope that the light will return.

The Klepto said...

This is a somewhat depressing post. But I do like the way you string your workds along. It is poetic, if not dark.
But I want to thank you for posting on my page, my very first comment.
Up until this point I only read the teasers in my Dashboard, not your complete articles. I am going to try to read more, as I love science and the arts.
Keep up the good work, and don't let the weather keep you down. I live in Florida, this is my favorite time of year!

doyle said...

I love Imbolc; I just call it Groundhog Day instead. It raises fewer eyebrows--maybe I'll call it Imbolc once I get tenured.

Rationally, I know the sun will return, but by late November, I lose my rational thought. Every year I lose it.

My son was born in early December, but by early December the evening light is starting to return even as the dawn light continues to fade.

I'm hanging on--once the sunset stops receding, I'll pay more attention to the dawn. Eventually the sun starts rising earlier again in January, and then, Imbolc.

doyle said...


Waning sunlight is depressing--25% of the folks around here exhibit signs of seasonal affective disorder. (I don't think it's a disorder, though. I think mammals tend to shut down when the food wanes with the sun.)

Consider me the old guy reading your blog. I love music, and you cover music well, which is a lot harder than people realize.

I haven't bought the latest AC/DC album yet, but if I do, they can thank you.

CB said...

Fear? Maybe the darkness hasn't hit me yet. (The cold's starting to a bit. Getting hibernative, which is the best adjective I could make up for the word and actually pleases me quite an odd bit, and sleepy.)

Maybe it's because I don't have children. Or because I'm reading the earliest Buddhist writings, which so accept death but don't accept fear that they're actually working on me the way I guess they're supposed to work. Or maybe it's just resignation.

But I don't get fear right now.

Can you go into the fear a little bit more? Will you?

doyle said...

Fear takes me places I don't normally talk about, and my best pseudo-Buddhist moments happen with a full belly and an empty mind, when the sun is high in the sky.

(Ironically, or whatever the word is, I have an overdue library book with some old Buddhist writings, and I'm dwelling on the daily fines.)

Maybe I've seen too many children die too slowly being fed too much hope while we infused them with vincristine and adriamycin and other chemicals that require gloves to handle.

Remember the comet Hale-Bopp? We had an ill patient--she had just had surgery, her bandages were obvious.

The mother said we were not to tell her anything about her tumor, even though the child just had a chunk of herself scooped out.

After much negotiation, because the mother threatened to keep me away (and any other docs who would not comply), I told her I would not announce anything to the child, but would answer any questions she might have about anything.

One night while in the hospital, I took the child to a window that faced the comet.

She was quiet. She did not ask about her bandages.

She was dying and pretending she wasn't, to keep the adults around her happy.

The child knew she was in trouble, but did not ask.

When it gets dark, it's harder to pretend that dying does not happen. The concept of death can be frightening, but it's dying that's hard, or can be.

Need not be.

I made it a little harder for that child, I think.

(There's also the TSE "fear in a handful of dust" kind of fear, swirling thoughts, glimpses of thoughts, but that might just be the amgydala resetting itself.)

Johnny Goodyear said...

I think you've found your home Doctor Doyle....have you read (Julian Barnes) 'Nothing to be frightened of'? Really quite good. And as you more than most would surmise he's talking about the 'nothing' which many are frightened of. Anyway, too early for this, but good to see you at work. I've missed reading you and will happily plod through what you have here. Personally, and as regards light, I've decided I can't stand November in Maine. Makes me want to be in bed by eight o'clock. Good excuse to go to The Canaries in a few days I guess.....

doyle said...

Ah, news from the Damariscotta riverman.

I have yet to find my oyster bed (aside from chipping away at jetties--functional but feels like cheating), but I have stumbled upon a nice clam bed that should carry me to the grave, or at least until I get to old to paddle.

I owe you words, I know, lots of words, and a cigar and some melomel.

Enjoy the canaries, though it's a lot of work plucking all those feathers for the little bit of meat you get.

And I'm still working on that letter--the Finn should get it by his second decade.

Anonymous said...

TSE and the "remember man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return" stuff is swirling around in there of course - but I prefer to look at e e cummings.
You didn't make it harder for that little girl. That she had to pretend for her parents was what made it hard. Now to the poem:

dying is fine)but Death
by: e.e. cummings

dying is fine)but Death


wouldn't like

Death if Death

when(instead of stopping to think)you

begin to feel of it,dying
's miraculous

cause dying is

perfectly natural;perfectly
it mildly lively(but


is strictly
& artificial &

evil & legal)

we thank thee
almighty for dying
(forgive us,o life!the sin of Death

doyle said...

The romantic side of me says both of us understood she was dying.

But I'm not sure she grasped her end of the bargain, and, at any rate, it was cowardly of me to expect that she know her end of the bargain.

She was dying. I'm still here.

She's gone.

Anonymous said...

doyle -
Do any of us grasp our end of the bargain? While it is true that the child's body is gone, clearly her spirit has not. You don't get to pick who lives and who dies, and you also aren't guilty because you are alive and she is not.

Tell the stories. In stories the spirits of those who have touched us stay alive. Lives end. Hearts break. But the stories are forever as long as we keep telling them. There is a reason that you are still here to tell the stories. So tell them.

And light a candle to remember and to hold back the darkness.

doyle said...

I keep writing and erasing words, and cannot quite express what I thought I wanted to say.

So I'll simply say thank you for reminding me what I shouldn't forget, if that makes sense.