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Categorized | Outdoors

Missing evening light


By Ranger Steve Mueller


We are back to early darkness in the evening and earlier sunrise in the morning, with the return to standard time from daylight saving time. Most of us have adjusted to the change of moving clocks back an hour. I prefer having light later in the evening because I am not an early riser. My mother-in-law, who moved in with us a couple years ago, prefers light earlier in the morning. 

She goes to bed shortly after supper but gets up at 5 a.m. I go to bed after midnight and sleep until the sun is up. All of us have our own rhythms of sleep. Wild creatures, whether plant or animal, are closely attuned to sun and moon cycles. Plant flowering and leaf drop are linked to darkness hours. Animals have reproductive cycles, migration, or winter activity linked with hours of light and darkness. 

We live at the western edge of the time zone and it is best for me. It provides an extra half hour of evening light compared with those in the middle. I get an extra hour of evening light compared with those at the east side of the time zone. My mother-in-law lived most of her life closer to the eastern edge of a time zone. It provided her with an earlier sunrise. For those that live right in the middle of a time zone, they experience sunrise and sunset half way between the two extremes found at the beginning or end of time zones.

It would be necessary to adjust clocks to about 60 different times across each time zone in order to have the sun directly overhead at noon. The way time zones are established, clocks read noon a half hour past noon for those living at the east side of a time zone. It is a half hour before noon for those at the west side of time zones. 

Imagine trying to get to a work, school, or family events if we had 60 different time zones within what we now consider as one. It is a great compromise to have each of the 24 time zones for Earth 15 degrees wide. It provides a reasonably correct time with the sun being nearly overhead at noon. 

The Earth is tilted 23 degrees relative to the sun. In winter, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun, resulting in shorter daylight hours, as the Earth spins on its axis to create what appears to be a sunrise and sunset. Six months later, the Earth has traveled halfway around the sun and the northern hemisphere is angled toward the sun. The result is long summer days. On the first day of spring and fall, days are 12 hours long. Depending how far north or south of the equator one lives will determine how many hours of daylight one gets during summer or winter. 

We have all heard of “the land of the midnight sun” where regions north of the Arctic circle experience 24 hours of daylight in summer. They experience 24 hours of darkness in winter because of Earth’s 23-degree tilt. Here we receive about 16 hours of summer daylight and about 8 hours of light in winter. 

Until we move our clocks ahead in spring for daylight saving time, I will miss the late evening light. On standard time for the winter, my mother-in-law will enjoy an earlier sunrise. Move to the eastern edge of a time zone to experience the earliest sunrise, live at the western edge if you desire light later in the evening.

Take time to notice how rapidly the sun sets in winter when it seems to go almost straight down. During a summer morning or evening, watch how slowly the sun comes up or goes down as it slowly angles its way at the horizon. Enjoy the light slowly shimmer to darkness with a long afterglow. In winter blackness comes quickly when the sun falls quickly over the horizon. Fear not, it will bounce up in the morning. 

If this brief account is too much to comprehend and deal with, take a few essentials and move into the wild country away from standardized time zones and the compromises that are essential when two or more people are together. Live in the real world where it will be noon when the sun is directly overhead no matter where you are. Wild plants and animals do it in their nature niches. Perhaps you can. Most people find it easier and better to live in society with compromise. 

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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