Friday, January 17, 2014

Watching the Day Grow

Two minutes per day. That is how much daylight we gain once past the winter solstice. The change is so gradual, so subtle, that tracking it seems as futile as trying to watch our hair or nails grow. We do not notice the incremental changes, until one day, all at once, the lengthening becomes apparent and the change impresses us as if a monumental shift has taken place overnight. All the sudden it no longer gets dark at 4 in the afternoon, as it did during those shortest, most oppressive weeks. And that extra fraction of an hour we gain - or, perhaps it's an entire hour by the time we take notice - seem to come out of nowhere, like a bright, crisply packaged gift. 

That is how it has been for me, for as long as I can remember. Except this year - now, that is. This time around, it is the strangest thing, because I have seen the days grow. For a week straight in the middle of January, I rode my bike at the same time every day - setting off in the early afternoon and trying to make it back before dark. This self-imposed deadline was based not on the fact of the fading light it itself, but on the temperature drop and heightened risk of icy roads that come with it this time of year. On the first day it was already dark by the time I rolled down the lane that leads through the fields to my house. The street lights were on in the farm yard next door. I looked at the time and saw it was 4:40 in the afternoon. On the second day, I had aimed for the same time and noticed that the dusk - while still having arrived, was more transparent. On the third day, this transparency intensified and now the outside lights next door were not yet turned on. The days were growing in front of my very eyes.

The following day, I aimed to be back by 5pm. And as I pedaled home, racing against the setting sun, I noticed another thing. It weren't only the days getting longer, but the sunsets. The sun was not dropping like a stone once its descent began, as it had taken to doing since mid-November. On this afternoon it proceeded more hesitantly, making its way toward the horizon as if wandering down a not too steep hill absentmindedly.

The setting sun's glow was a warm one, bathing the roads, the fields and the mountains in a golden light reminiscent of a long summer's evening. This sunset was not anywhere close to a true summer sunset, with its hours of luxuriant lingering. But it showed hints of eventually becoming one. It was a categorical change from the curt winter sunset, with its stingy flash of white-blue light just before fading to black. At what point, I wondered, had the one switched to the other? Even as I managed to observe the minutes of daylight lengthening, I had still missed the delicate changes in the quality of sunsets that must have taken place just as incrementally. And while at first I lamented my oversight, as I got closer to home I was comforted by the thought that perhaps nature does not want to be thus monitored, enjoying the "hey, when did that happen?" reaction instead. And so it sneaks in these suddenly lingering sunsets and longer days, and we are blown away by them once we notice - appreciating them all the more when lucky enough to greet them on the bike. 

34 comments:

  1. Beautiful pix. Reminding me of "Morning" by Edvard Grieg, .... except it's dusk.

    I did a few rides to work this week. Felt good!

    vsk

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  2. Beautiful! When I stayed in Galway, I had the opposite experience -- the sun stayed up until nearly 11pm! It was so strange, but lovely just the same.

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    1. In June-July it did not get dark here till 11:30pm!

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    2. I love those summer days in high northern climes. Even with the fine Mediterranean light here in Central CA, the long June days of Northern WA stand out as particularly wonderful.

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  3. Velouria,

    Another wonderful post. I started reading your blog because of your fascination with bicycles. It's not so much about bikes, anymore, and to a degree I lament the change in focus. But I am still reading for the beautiful, evocative prose and the equally stunning photography. Keep 'em coming, and Happy New Year!

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  4. At higher latitudes the daily change in day length is actually quite a bit larger than closer to the equator. Despite the more mild weather, it is important to remember that you are much closer to the pole in Ireland than you ever were in Boston. It would not surprise me in the least if someone like yourself, coming from a lower latitude would notice the daily change much more than someone who's been there a while and probably has the sudden "boy the day's are a lot longer all of a sudden" feeling you describe.

    Also too, I suspect Ireland turns the poet in even you up a notch or two and so you are compelled to pay more attention to sunsets...

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  5. I actually noticed the later sunsets as soon as they started happening, around Dec. 8 (the sun starts setting later before the solstice -- dawn chases dusk for a couple of weeks). As I left work I thought, hmm, seems a little lighter. Then the next day, lighter still. I was glad to realize that I'd been noticing a real phenomenon when I looked it up.

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    1. Ah I did not know that the later sunsets start happening earlier.

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  6. Hegel and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance?

    If it's OK to ask, are you doing a little HDR?

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    1. They are iphone pics with instagram filters : )

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  7. Summer Solstice in Alaska means every day thereafter is a step into the abyss. Salmon are thick, running past the corpses of the spent.

    This "winter" every day is like summer, suddenly truncated just before dinner prep. Kind of weather that even the climate change deniers can't causally deny. House cold in the morning? Just open the door.

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    1. "Running past the corpses of the spent". Very nice.

      I'm going to use that someday and pretend it's mine...

      Spindizzy

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  8. I had a somewhat similar realization of the progression of things while standing in line at the grocery this morning.

    I happened to glance at my reflection in the big window by the cash register and was astonished by how the state of my face had changed since I shaved on Tuesday evening, and how the seam on the sleeve of my sweater that was just beginning to come loose at the cuff on Monday was now open from the wrist to a point about 5 inches above my elbow. Additional to that my fleece hat was inside out and the smileyface with my name scrawled by it that my daughter, aged 6, magic-markered in it when she gave it to me for Christmas in 2004, was directly over my forehead. In 4 short days I had gone from a clean shaven middle-aged man, presentably turned out in standard Costco Casual, to a great shambling hulk staring wide eyed and alarmed at a nice young mother and her son walking past the window on their way into the store. A nice young mother that I go to church with and who's mother occasionally accompanied me to the movies when I was a sophomore in college.

    Things do seem to change over time if you look really closely.

    Spindizzy

    BTW, are you far enough north to see the Northern Lights where you are? I've only seen them a few times (once in N. Manitoba I even heard them fizz and crackle) but think about it often.

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    1. There are auroras here, especially in the winter. But you have to be fairly dedicated to tracking them and the weather conditions to see one. I've gone out hunting for it a couple of times now when there was a chance of a sighting, but no luck so far. On the other hand, here's a photo a friend took a month or so back. That's 20 miles from where I live.

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    2. Wow. That's an amazing shot. Looks like an old Led Zepplin album cover. Do you still feel like there's nothing romantically unique about Ireland?

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    3. I do feel there is something uniquely special about this place - in particular about the part where I live. But that something is not expressed in that photo (though it is a cool shot of course).

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  9. I just finished reading Malachi O'Douherty's "On My Own Two Wheels" at your recommendation, so maybe I'm sensitive to the odd/Irish turn of phrase. However, I do not recall Mr. O'Doherty using the phrases I saw in this posting, namely, "all the sudden" and "it weren't only the days getting longer." Irish-isms?

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  10. The rate of change of the day length is deceptive - it is not linear - a few seconds a day increase after the winter solstice increasing to 4 minutes a day by the end of February.

    Check it here.

    http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/astronomy.html?n=136&month=2&year=2014&obj=sun&afl=-11&day=1

    Sch.

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  11. There is an afterglow as well post sunset that makes a huge difference. It's still pretty much dark when I leave work at 5:30, but it's getting brighter.

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  12. Looks like Northern Ireland is about 54 or 55 degrees north latitude. I am on Vancouver Island at about 50 degrees N. Yes, the days seem to be stretching out pleasantly for the late afternoon ride.

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  13. In Wales we say that each day after the Winter Solstice lengthens by a "cam ceiliog" (a cockerels step). The cockerels step is a small but very determined stride forward, and his crow, earlier and earlier each morning, is said to chase away the winter. This line is from a poem called 'Cam Ceiliog' by Katherine Venn
    The path
    before you
    has been marked: trust
    that the light will stretch
    each day by the length
    of a cockerel’s step, whose crows
    slough off winter, peel back the dawn.

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  14. ...bicycle riding and the sky. It is what I most love. No matter what the weather or the light, I end a ride holding the beautiful vastness within. Thanks for putting it in such lovely words.

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  15. These beautiful landscape photos let me think about John Constable painter: he was a friend of sky and landscape.
    http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_247350/John-Constable/page-1
    As a foreigner it's common to say in my country that British area is historical linked to watercolor painting. Maybe it was due to quality of lights witch provide lot of middle subtle hues.
    Nowadays famous watercolor painters live all around the planet, but I don't really know Irish painter.
    L.

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    1. It occurs to me that I don't know of any Irish landscape painters either; I will investigate.

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    2. Paul Henry would probably be Ireland's best know landscape painter. But most of his work is of the West of Ireland

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  16. The bike as a moving sundial, better than stonehenge !

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  17. Hello Velouria! Love your blog; maybe you should write a book about bikes and bicycling. A no nonsense, no fuss straight up big chunk of a coffee table book about the things you love. Oh and food too, and travel.... What the heck just all of it. Take care, and best wishes from sunny Denmark!

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  18. When I lived in Alaska, the change in daylight, the growing length of each day - or, conversely, the rapid shortening leading up to winter, was an almost living thing; it was clearly perceived by all and was really cause for celebration. Having moved back to the Midwest a decade I ago, I often think about those happy - and daily - changes in light, especially when it seems to be so subtle here.

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  19. Mid-Continent temperate zones are the worst. Sometimes entire weeks will pass without a break in the cloud cover.

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  20. The second photo is quite lovely. Actually, I think the photos do not need narrative. Some stand quite well as art as opposed to being illustrative. Am confused as to whether this is a bike blog or some sort of photo/documentary/diary thing about you and your eye.

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  21. Related the last comment, I am curious what usually comes first? the photos or the ideas for posts?

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    1. It really depends; could be either way.

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  22. Beautiful post. I have been reading your blog on and off and really appreciate the clear and honest opinion.

    I have recently started noticing no mention of co-cohabitant nor have I seen "MDI" posting here anymore, is he still around? I have a couple of questions about what he needed to do to fit VO fenders on his Surly CC with Fat franks.

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  23. Lovely post which makes me optimistic for the lighter, brighter days to come :-)

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