Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Enjoy the Solstice, whenever you are

I live in Earth's Northern Hemisphere. "Today" is the Summer Solstice for me and some, but not all, who live North of the Equator. Where I live, relative to Greenwich Mean Time [GMT], the Solstice occurs at 11:24 pm on 6/20. As I poked about the nooks and crannies of the internets, tracking down some of the specifics, I rediscovered just how arbitrary, and, perhaps, even capricious, we humans are regarding things we treat with absolute certainty. Here are a few examples from Wikipedia:

Summer sunrise
Summer sunrise
Photo by J. Harrington

  • GMT was formerly used as the international civil time standard, now superseded in that function by Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

  • Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers show that the marking strip for the prime meridian at Greenwich is not exactly at zero degrees, zero minutes, and zero seconds but at approximately 5.3 seconds of arc to the west of the meridian (meaning that the meridian appears to be 102 metres east of this line).

  • The actual reason for the discrepancy is that the marking strip is indeed at astronomical longitude zero degrees, zero minutes, and zero seconds[note 2]—but GPS receivers show geodetic longitude (specifically ITRF/WGS 84).

  • The Summer Solstice is tomorrow, 6/21, in London, England!

The preceding, plus more I won't bother you with, came about as I asked myself "When is the first day of astronomical Summer this year?" With the Solstice at 11:24 pm locally, I'm not ceding 36 minutes of today as "Summer's" first day, in part because it doesn't occur during the daytime... Tomorrow is obviously Summer's first full day. Today's share is only 2.5% of a single day (36 of 1440 minutes) and 0.028% of an entire Summer season of 90 days. Clearly, the meteorologists have a neater, e.g., more orderly, arrangement with their seasonal breaks starting Summer at June 1, but the astronomical approach is more organic. 'Twas ever thus?

Sunrise River at Sunrise City park
Sunrise River at Sunrise City park
Photo by J. Harrington

All that I've described here today reinforces, at least for me, the value of (re)reading, knowing, and following the guidance Dana Meadows shared with us in Dancing with Systems. I notice I've been remiss in looking carefully at, and remembering, points number 12, 13 and 14. I promise to reread the whole thing and try harder to follow a holistic perspective.

As I refreshed my memory about "Dancing", another link caught my eye. I further suggest, in celebration of Summer's forthcoming real and political thunderstorms and downpours, you also read Taking on the Erosive Cycle of Money and Political Power. I found the analogy of erosion, and how to stop it, very, very helpful as I start what I plan to be my Summer of Water, because, as we all know, Water Is Life -- Mni Wiconi. May yours be full of quenched thirst rather than clenched fists.

Solstice Litany

By Jim Harrison

The Saturday morning meadowlark
came in from high up
with her song gliding into tall grass
still singing. How I'd like
to glide around singing in the summer
then to go south to where I already was
and find fields full of meadowlarks
in winter. But when walking my dog
I want four legs to keep up with her
as she thunders down the hill at top speed
then belly flops into the deep pond.
Lark or dog I crave the impossible.
I'm just human. All too human.

I was nineteen and mentally
infirm when I saw the prophet Isaiah.
The hem of his robe was as wide
as the horizon and his trunk and face
were thousands of feet up in the air.
Maybe he appeared because I had read him
so much and opened too many ancient doors.
I was cooking my life in a cracked clay
pot that was leaking. I had found
secrets I didn't deserve to know.
When the battle for the mind is finally
over it's late June, green and raining.

A violent windstorm the night before
the solstice. The house creaked and yawned.
I thought the morning might bring a bald earth,
bald as a man's bald head but not shiny.
But dawn was fine with a few downed trees,
the yellow rosebush splendidly intact.
The grass was all there dotted with Black
Angus cattle. The grass is indestructible
except to fire but now it's too green to burn.
What did the cattle do in this storm?
They stood with their butts toward the wind,
erect Buddhists waiting for nothing in particular.
I was in bed cringing at gusts,
imagining the contents of earth all blowing
north and piled up where the wind stopped,
the pile sky-high. No one can climb it.
A gopher comes out of a hole as if nothing happened.
The sun should be a couple of million miles
closer today. It wouldn't hurt anything
and anyway this cold rainy June is hard
on me and the nesting birds. My own nest
is stupidly uncomfortable, the chair
of many years. The old windows don't keep
the weather out, the wet wind whipping
my hair. A very old robin drops dead
on the lawn, a first for me. Millions
of birds die but we never see it—they like
privacy in this holy, fatal moment or so
I think. We can't tell each other when we die.
Others must carry the message to and fro.
"He's gone," they'll say. While writing an average poem
destined to disappear among the millions of poems
written now by mortally average poets.

Solstice at the cabin deep in the forest.
The full moon shines in the river, there are pale
green northern lights. A huge thunderstorm
comes slowly from the west. Lightning strikes
a nearby tamarack bursting into flame.
I go into the cabin feeling unworthy.
At dawn the tree is still smoldering
in this place the gods touched earth.

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