Archive for December, 2009

It all started with a simple observation. As the winter solstice, December 21, 2009, approached, I realized that sunset was already getting later each day. On a whim, I pulled up a chart of the sunset and sunset times for my area, and to my surprise, found that the solstice had neither the latest sunrise or the earliest sunset of the year. This was quite a surprise.

Now in case this makes you furrow your eyebrows instead of raising them in sympathetic surprise, here is why this is strange to me — as winter approaches, the days get shorter. So you expect that sunrises get later and sunsets get earlier. And if you’re like me, and expect some kind of symmetry in the world, you would expect that the shortest day of the year (solstice) would be the coincidence of the latest sunrise and earliest sunset of the year.

But this isn’t so. Curious.

Because i sometimes like playing with numbers, i pulled the sunrise/sunset chart into Excel, and after some wrangling to get a graph that came close to illustrating my point, i came up with this:

(click on it and it’ll be a little bigger)

It’s not perfect, but it gives you the idea… the curve of sunset time and sunrise time do not mirror each other, and do not coincide at the solstice, yet somehow the solstice still manages to be the shortest day of the year. The bumpiness of the curve, by the way, is because the times are only to the nearest minute, so the rounding of time to the minute causes the graph to be a little bumpy (most noticeable in the day length). But you get the idea.

So now, even after the solstice, sunrise is still getting a little later each day. Or is it?

Dissatisfied, i turned to the internet and found this site. After reading it twice, it left me feeling a bit dull and still utterly confused. But the third time something finally clicked. It’s us.

Why doesn’t solstice seem to work like it ought to? Because we are not working with real time. We are working with our best attempt to make clocks and calendars describe the world around us. And we don’t quite get it right. Do daylight savings changes and leap years sound familiar?

In order for the above graph to show two nice bell curves (one inverted) that meet and just touch at the solstice, our “day” would have to be set up so that noon was always exactly centered between sunrise and sunset. But instead, our day is all screwed up to fit our various needs. In fact, looking at a chart of sunrises and sunsets, it is pretty hard to know where the solstice falls. We need experts to tell us.

In other words, this would all make a lot more sense if we were still using sun dials. Before clocks, the “time” of the day was always relative to the sun. The middle of the day was, well, when the sun reached its zenith. Time by measured by the sun is much different than time measured by your cell phone. It actually reflects the natural world, not the human one.

And that’s the problem. When i want to know what is going on outside, i go to the internet, i check my clock, and i look at a calendar. I’ll even check the weather on the internet before i go outside. All of this is a world of our own invention. The real world is right out there, outside the door. Our calendar, and even our watch, helps us to stay a little less connected to the ground under our feet and the way that the world turns.


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There’s something magical about the passing of twilight into day.

from thesandiegophotoproject.blogspot.com/

Having nothing better to do around the Christmas holiday, I’ve picked up the responsibility of checking, feeding, and watering two ducks and two cats… the house is within walking distance. And so, this morning, a little before the sun was up, i stepped out into a brisk, 9 degree morning, and took a little walk.

And what magic! The sun just cresting a far ridge, and a sky of layered, symmetric clouds catching the golden light of the morning. Repeating patches of blue showing through.

Sunrise is a time to be outside. I call it “tasting the day”… a moment to reflect on the beauty of a beginning, and the possibilities of the coming day. A moment to feel the weather, feel the earth turning, feel your pulse and the pulse of the world around you.


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Usually, I’m a fan of words… even ones i need to look up in the dictionary.

BUT… here’s a couple that bother me. After a lifetime of half-hearted attempts at literature, and as constant reading as I can accommodate, I feel that sometimes i don’t need to really know a word to cipher its meaning… sometimes they just sound like they mean.  And then i come to these:


This one i more often see as “disingenuous,” which, to me, sounds like a double negative. And that’s the problem with the whole word… the “in” part is not a negative at all… not incapable or insensitive, but rather interest or innocent. But doesn’t ingenuous sound like “not genuous?”  So to find out that it means “innocently naive” is a shock, since genuous sounds like generous or the like. And disingenuous turns out to be a mind bender for me… disingenuous means giving a false sense of innocence or honesty. To be disingenuous is to be not-naive. Go figure.


Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Sounds peaceful. Unfortunately, restive seems to have nothing to do with rest… since restive means resisting control or marked by impatience. Huh. So i guess when I’m sprawled on a beach with an arm tenderly touching a woman i love, i’m not restive at all. Maybe i’m dis-restive? Sigh.

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Life is out there, somewhere beyond the rain
In upturned faces, damp and joyous dogs.
I press my forehead against the glass
My breath a fleeting but persistent ghost.

A world slips by, scene after scene with tenuous links
Cars emerge and fade, blinking; faces are glimpsed and gone.
Here I remain untouched, nothing is expected of me
I am cradled in electric glow and faint vibration.

But now a slow and stop with squeak and sigh
The door is open, waiting.


Figured I’d share this one… it was a winner in Juneau’s Poetry Omnibus competition (2005 I think) — local poets’ works were judged and several winners were displayed on the public transit buses in Juneau for a year. I think it’s a great idea and all transit buses should have a touch of poetry!

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Word exercises

I’ve been purging belongings lately, and have necessarily gone through old notebooks and files. Sometimes I find interesting tidbits and memories. In the margins of my notebook for a class on Shakespeare:

I trim merit to mime ire
remit memoir to rot
tremor to roe mire
or miror rime to time

as rash rakes seek keepsakes
a spear sees a sheep share respekt
respeak a rash pear’s rape
hasp a sap, keep shares as sharks

Interesting, eh? None of the words in the poem uses any different letters, or more letters, than are in the name of the person that titles the poem… kind of a fun exercise.

The class was a little tedious, and these helped to pass the time and entertain me and my friend Shantra. Mostly amusing, yet there is something compelling about the unity of sound in these…

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With five inches or so of snow on the ground and the sun beginning to peer through the clouds, I couldn’t help but get outside today. So for the first time of the season, I strapped on snowshoes and went off to explore a forest road. There is something magical about the first real snow of the season. The trees are all decorated in white, the landscape is softened, and there is something about snow that muffles out sound and leave a precious stillness. It feels like you have just learned how to see again, and everything is beautiful.

I’ve got an old pair of Tubbs aluminum snowshoes, and although I’m considering looking into some xc skis, I’m happy with the pace and freedom of a pair of snowshoes.  On them, I move slow enough to notice things, and although a trail or an empty road is nice, any direction or terrain is possible.

And it can be a workout. You don’t “float” on the snow when breaking trail. What the shoes do is to even out your footsteps–they prevent you from post-holing on one step and then not punching through on the next. But you do sink in, and you have to lift the shoe out with each step. It can build character, especially on steep slopes and places littered with fallen trees.

But the ability to wander at will is a joy, especially if you are like me. I like tracks. I like following animals and seeing (from their tracks) what they were up to. Today I was lucky enough to spend some time with a cougar.

We’ll call it a she. Her tracks crossed the forest road partway into my day, and i immediately followed. The tracks were fresh, although not so fresh that i thought i would catch up to her. There was a tiny bit of snow or frost in the track, and since cougars meander around at night mostly, i figure she’d moved through last night.

What struck me first was that she wasn’t that big. In general, if you look at a walking animal, the distance from one right foot to the other right foot (or left to left) is the length of the animal from rump to shoulder. This cat’s stride wasn’t much longer than my showshoe… maybe three feet. A head and a tail would make it a bit longer, but overall the size of maybe a medium-large dog. The tracks themselves were too big for a bobcat, and the fact that the feet were sinking in deep ruled out a lynx.

The fun of tracking is that i feel like i get to know the animal a little bit. Right where i first met the track, the cat sat down for a little bit. Part of the back legs showed in the snow, and the front feet were just in front. A little bit of ice in the whole composition showed that it was there long enough for its body heat to melt the snow a bit. Just resting? Waiting? When i used to track lynx, it seemed like they always sat in a spot with a view… and this cat was doing the same thing. A bare hillside up ahead, the open forest road stretching straight out to it. I think the cougar paused here, waiting to see if there was anything moving out there. And then she kept moving.

She took me into a section of criss-crossed fallen timber… fallen by a fire crew. Signs of a nearby fire and scorching on the trunks suggested that the road i was walking had been a designated fire break, and they’d fallen some trees to make sure a crown fire couldn’t cross the road.

Quickly i came to the conclusion that she was definitely hunting. She approached a little hollow, and three times i noticed what i like to call “ghost steps”–where a foot touches the snow, but no weight is put on it, leaving just a slight print. I picture her pausing in mid-stride, thinking she saw or heard something. Each time i see a ghost step i look up, too. At the third one, i notice two mule deer in the hollow. Maybe there’d been one there last night.

And then she was into a log maze. Circling back on her own tracks, going around and over logs. Definitely hoping to surprise something in there. And with a smile, i started noticing that this cat (maybe all cougars?) likes to jump. Putting a paw on a log and easing over it just wouldn’t do. Most logs she crossed had a perfectly intact head of snow on them, with her tracks on either side… she didn’t even brush the snow with a body or foot. A perfect leap over each time. I, of course, lumbered over them, half-falling as little stob branches tried to grab my showshoes.

I don’t know if she was hoping to find a deer in that log maze, or maybe something smaller like a squirrel or hare, but after leaving the logs behind, i suddenly had a hard time following her tracks because of all the fresh deer tracks that crossed, re-crossed, and obliterated the cougar tracks. The prey and predator using the same trails…

And so, after a bit, i turned for home. My legs were already protesting. I’m not in shape for snowshoeing yet. It uses muscles i don’t even know i have.

And the walk out was a treat. The slightest of breezes, and a small dose of sun conspired to begin loosening the snow from the ponderosas and firs. First one, and then another. It starts with just a few quiet thumps of snow hitting snow, but then a cascade of snow comes down as a flickering white mist that mushrooms out at the ground and lingers, sparkling, in the air.

This is the grace of being outdoors. There seem to always be unlooked for moments of wonder that greet you when you least expect. I stood and watched as a whole forest of trees began sending down their glinting cascades, one after another. And i smiled.

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As reported by Jennifer Barone in Discover magazine, this is a quote from astronomer Jessica Sunshine…

“The moon is breathing.”

Wow.  Apparently solar winds are interacting with oxygen at the moon’s surface to create particles of water… high mid-day temperatures break down the particles, and then they reassemble as the day cools. This creates a cycle of dryness and water akin to, well, breathing.

But what really impresses me here is the ability of Sunshine, an ironically named astronomer, to see the moon as something more than just an object. To give it life.

from commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Moon.jpg

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