We're About to Move the Sun … Again!

Denis Gullickson

talking titletown—denis gullickson—march 2020

Days are getting noticeably longer as we crawl out of winter and into spring — which around here usually means mud and more mud until things dry out … or not (think last year and the year before).

But this article is a celebration, not a sopping wet blanket meant to douse rising spirits as the days also get warmer.

“Spring Forward, Fall Back" will echo in our noggins the weekend of March 6-8 as we set our clocks forward an hour.

If you're a stickler for protocol, you'll rise a few minutes before 2:00:00 a.m. Sunday, March 8 and set your clocks to 3:00:00 a.m. Pragmatic folks will complete task before retiring Saturday evening. Mild procrastinators will make the adjustment Sunday morning. The slovenly, unkempt degenerates among us will wait “until whenever I get around to it."

Why?

A recent piece on a local TV station — that some lawmakers were “pushing to end daylight savings time changes for public health" — raised an age-old debate: Just what the heck drives us to switch up our clocks twice a year like this?

The lawmakers propose that we make the change on March 8 and leave our timepieces unaltered on November 1 — in other words, switch to Daylight Savings Time (DST) and stick with it.

Adjustments to daylight savings time and, then, back to standard time are blamed for everything from a spike in heart attacks to car accidents to lost productivity at the job site as we adapt sleep patterns.

According to the news piece, an A.P. survey indicated that 70 percent of Americans “want to put an end to switching clocks." Bills to make DST permanent have already passed in at least seven states.

By the way, most of Arizona and all of Hawaii do not use DST and Indiana only adopted it in 2006. U.S. territories do not follow it nor do most countries along the equator where there isn't enough deviation in sunrise and sunset times to justify it. Nearly all of Asia and Africa also eschew the practice.

Some think that changing our clocks is just a general foolishness best summarized by an alleged “old Indian" who — when told the reason for DST — said: “Only a white man would believe that you could cut a foot off the top of a blanket and sew it to the bottom of a blanket and have a longer blanket."

Understanding why we make the change at all requires a quick history lesson. Like the progenitor of so many things, (he is rumored to have had as many as 15 illegitimate children for cripes' sake), Ben Franklin gets involved in this one, too.

While he didn't “invent" the idea, Franklin did suggest in a satirical essay in the spring of 1784 that Parisians adjust their sleep habits to coincide with the changes in sunrise and sunset. His rationale was practical enough: It would save on candles and lamp oil. Tongue-in-cheek, he also proposed taxing window shutters, rationing candles, and waking the public by ringing church bells and firing cannons at daybreak.

The actual procedure of changing clocks was first proposed in 1895 by one George Hudson, an entomologist. He liked the idea of working in the field after his day job. A William Willett also gets some nods for pressing the idea in 1905 — supposedly so that he could squeeze in a golf game later in the day.

The first city to adopt the strategy was Port Arthur, Ontario. Others followed. The first nationwide implementation occurred in Germany and Austria-Hungary on April 30, 1916 to help conserve coal during World War I. By 1918, other countries including Russia and the U.S. had adopted DST.

Many nations dropped the practice after that war but resumed it during World War II. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, it became widely adopted but not without ongoing controversy.

Those Damned Circadian Rhythms

Of course, back in “the really good old days" clocks were unnecessary. Go figure; there weren't 7.8 billion people's schedules to coordinate. Ancient societies lived in synch with the sun and adjusted nimbly as needed.

Some civilizations had hours that flexed with the amount of daylight — meaning that there were 12 hours of daylight no matter what the time of year. The Romans used “water clocks" with different scales for different months. For instance, the third hour from sunrise started at 9:02 a.m. and lasted for 44 minutes at Winter Solstice yet started at 6:58 a.m. and lasted for 75 minutes at Summer Solstice.

Even-length hours became the norm from the 14th century forward — creating a trackable level of uniformity and expectation. By the early 19th century, the Spanish National Assembly began moving meeting times forward one hour between May 1 and September 30 though clocks did not change.

But the artifice of clocks and alarms and beepers and other devices would have been lost on our earliest ancestors. Instead, life and life decisions were made around a natural, internal process that was in direct coordination with natural conditions like daylight and temperatures — a 24-hour sleep-wake cycle of circadian rhythms.

Identified by scientists in numerous studies, that innate clock appears to control the cycle of everything “from human cells to algae" and “dates back millions of years to early life on Earth."

For us humans, these studies have shown that disrupted “clocks" — like those that occur at time changes — have huge implications for health.

A University of Cambridge study showed such disruptions “— for example, caused by shift-work and jet-lag — are associated with metabolic disorders such as diabetes, mental health problems and even cancer."

In nomadic and agrarian societies, adjustments were made with the sun and time of year. Longer days meant more activity and productivity and longer nights meant more rest. In animals, this is obvious in winter periods of hibernation and torpor.

These days, we sure as heck don't get to enjoy the luxury of months of inactivity.

What to Do

For this writer, longer days naturally produce an uptick in optimism. Thoughts turn to spring and summer projects and away from snow and cold. Anything seems possible.

Over the next month — based on historic averages — daily high temperatures will increase 13 degrees from 34 degrees to 47 degrees. Between March 1 and March 31, the length of daylight will jump from 11:14:52 to 12:47:37 hours. Yes!

Of course, that March 8 jolt in time and its impact on those ancient bodily rhythms will still take some getting used to. Experts suggest gradually transitioning into the time change, sticking to normal bedtime routines, eating smart and choosing sleep-inducing foods, relaxing before you sleep, going to be earlier, ignoring your clocks and the “real-time" and soaking up that morning light.

All things, considered, we are turning a corner weather-wise and things should be looking up from here.

Here, an intriguing ditty from English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 1772-1834, which has fascinated this writer since first chancing across it:

Time, Real and Imaginary

AN ALLEGORY

ON the wide level of a mountain's head

(I knew not where, but 'twas some faery place),

Their pinions, ostrich-like, for sails outspread,

Two lovely children run an endless race,

A sister and a brother!

This far outstripp'd the other;

Yet ever runs she with reverted face,

And looks and listens for the boy behind:

For he, alas! is blind!

O'er rough and smooth with even step he pass'd,

And knows not whether he be first or last.

Of the poem, Coleridge averred that “time imaginary" was like a schoolboy returning to the classroom after summer and fondly anticipating his next vacation.

The real challenge and delight, of course, is the multi-layered paradox of what defines “time real" and “time imaginary" and which sibling represents which concept of time.

Finally, a nod to my late buddy, Paul, who said whenever we changed the clocks, “We're not changing the clocks, we're moving the sun." Ah, the power of us humans!

Shout Out from The Premier

In recent issues, this writer has used a bit of this space to acknowledge individuals and groups advancing arts and performance in Titletown while utilizing space at The Premier, 520 N Broadway.

This month, a big “Thank You" to the Oneida Nation's First Annual Red Banks Native Artists Event held on Saturday, February 8; a “Way to Go, Gentlemen" to 43 North's Valentine's Day/Teen Night Gaming Hub on Friday, February 14; and a “Congratulations" to Surrender and Slay for their Punk Boudoir: A Collaboration Event on Saturday, February 22.

Next month, a look at some of our awesome tenant members.

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