By Lew Avera
At last, with the shortest day of the year behind us, we’re headed for longer and warmer days.
When I was in the Marines, there seemed to be no daytime or nighttime. Days were all the same, just 24-hour periods of time. Activities flowed over time without regard to day or night except as combat conditions required. However, later in life it seemed like daylight hours became more desirable depending upon one’s activities. I’m so sensitive to this now that I seem to measure the time change in daylight and darkness every day.
Several weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about this who was unaware of the very specific dynamics of the north/south movement of the Earth and the related change in seasons and daylight/nighttime. I think it’s so interesting to be aware of four very specific days of the year and what they mean.
Dec. 21: First day of winter and the shortest daylight and longest darkness of the year.
March 21: First day of spring and an even amount of daylight and darkness.
June 21: First day of summer and the longest daylight and shortest darkness of the year.
Sept. 21: First day of fall/autumn and an even amount of daylight and darkness as March 21.
The dynamics of these four days are generated by the position of the sun with earth and the equator. On March 21 and Sept. 21, the sun is directly over the equator, yielding even daylight/darkness. On Dec. 21, it is at the bottom of its orbit below the equator, providing summer for the southern hemisphere—like Australia and South America—and winter for us with short days and long nights. On June 21, it is as far north of the equator as it will go giving us the longest day and shortest night of the year. For example, on this day, it can be daylight in Seattle from around 4 a.m. until after 9 p.m. With all of this in mind, I seem to literally “count the hours of daylight each day.”
In this same context, although not technically about the number of hours in the day, one of the worst days of the year for me is the end of Daylight Saving Time (DST) in November. Clocks are turned back and, in my mind, we have effectively lost an hour of usable daylight at the end of the day.
The Marine days/years had long passed, and I was commuting 40 miles each way from Huntington Beach to work in downtown LA on a daily basis. I was up at 5 a.m., and on the road at 5:10 a.m., downtown and working out with weights and running from 6-7:30 a.m. and at my desk by 8 a.m. Because of the traffic and my workload, I always worked until about 6 p.m. During the longer days, it was always pleasant daylight when I finished for the trip home. When DST turned the clock back, it became dark before 5 p.m., leaving another hour and a half of “working at night” each day and the long drive home in the dark. During that week, I had “no daylight hours of my own.” At first, I failed to appreciate that I picked up an hour of “daylight” for the very early morning commute.
Of course, there are always 24 hours in a day; so, regardless of the clock, we have the same amount of time 365 days a year. It just seems that “daylight hours” have become more valued to me as the years go by. Bring on the daylight hours.
Lew Avera is a retired career officer, Lt. Col., U.S. Marine Corps. He was a director of theTalega HOA and served on the San Clemente Planning Commission from 2005-2013.