Nature Notes: Keep Spinning, World

      The shortest day is only four days away. The winter solstice is not a bad day in my book, Christmas follows in 5 days, New Year’s Day in 11 days, and the days begin lengthening not a moment too soon.

Durell Godfrey

If it weren’t for the turn of the earth and its rotation around the sun once a year, everything would be the same.

    Can you imagine how important that day is to the Scandinavians, the Aleuts, Inuits, Alaskans, and northern Siberians, not to forget those Canadians around Hudson Bay and in the Northwest Territory, where darkness prevails almost around the clock? The summer solstice is not so welcome, particularly after a beautiful May and early June when the leaves stand replete on the trees and all of the songbirds are nesting and singing their territorial songs. From then on the weather turns oppressively hot and the days’ lengths begin to dwindle down.

    We often forget how our lives and our lives’ moods are almost completely dependent upon the turn of the earth. Of course, it’s the same for all of the plants and animals, which, in the company of good old Homo sapiens, us, all have annual cycles and cycles through the seasons in different ways.

    At this latitude the vast majority of the plants become dormant by the time of the first frost, many mammals and all of the frogs, land turtles, snakes, and salamanders go into hibernation or semihibernation. Most of the birds migrate south to warmer climes and greater food supplies, while not a few different fish species either retreat to deeper water or follow the coast southward led by waves of striped bass and bluefish.

    Except for the conifers and a few hardwood evergreens, the trees are not taking up carbon dioxide, while the amount of it produced by human activities, whether one heats with coal, natural gas, oil, or wood, increases. The factories don’t stop for a moment and air and land traffic continue almost unabated. Thanksgiving and Christmas are among the busiest time for autos and planes. On the other hand, the plants, while dormant, aren’t respiring either, that is, taking in oxygen during darkness and expelling carbon dioxide as a waste product, the same as we do.

    The plants at our latitude are not transpiring, either. With them not pulling precious groundwater out of the water table, the water table and freshwater aquifer beneath tend to swell upward, filling the water closet to capacity for the beehive goings-on of spring and summer to follow. In a way we were meant to “chill out” during the winter, in olden days pre-Walbaum, Walmart, I.G.A., and mom-and-pops, the larder was filled during the summer and early fall. It had to last for five months until the first harvesting of fish and farm produce in the spring. Chickens laid eggs throughout the year and cows gave milk throughout the year, in fact, every day, but except for what the hunters brought to the table, that was it.

    Up until the middle 1950s, most of us out here in the boondocks canned, cured hams, made jams and jellies, and put away foodstuffs in root cellars and the like. Those days are gone. Save for extreme rural life situations, as far as food is concerned, every one of the 365 days of the year for us humans is not so different from every other one. Television is the same throughout the year. Newspapers read similarly whether it’s spring, summer, fall, or winter. Internet news is still Internet news. Movies don’t change much. Restaurant menus stay the same. Except for vacations, we work as hard in the winter as we do in the summer.

    Yes, recreational activities are seasonally dependent, but they still mostly involve the movement of arms and legs in a somewhat rhythmic fashion. For some, the treadmills and lifting exercises in the local exercise spas go on day in and day out. Not a lot of difference there, same as feeding the chickens and cows and collecting their eggs and milk. If it weren’t for the turn of the earth and its rotation around the sun once a year, everything would be the same, day in and day out. We would become more and more and more robotic with each passing day, each passing year.

    I know some people out there make a new day out of each one falling throughout the calendar year. They follow the sun throughout its daily arc. They never miss a moon rise, and occasionally observe the stars and look at Orion now and track all of the other constellations and planets that move through the cosmos yearly. Even though the stars they’re observing may be thousands of light-years away and, in fact, may have fizzled out or exploded hundreds of years ago, as far as the observers are concerned, they are out there tomorrow night just as bright as the night before.

    Maybe if we were able to put aside our frenzied workaday lives for a long moment or two each day and observe the changes from dim light to bright light to dim light to dark and all of the things that happen outside our window during those changes, we would save ourselves from becoming the consumption-dependent robots that we are becoming. We’d feel better and instead of comparing ourselves and our status to one another’s, we’d get to know ourselves a little better before we take that final plunge into senility and eternal darkness that is the only inevitability that riches and status can never deter.

    Keep spinning, world. May we all spin along with you. Happy holidays!