Living in the Light

I live east in the time zone and days aren’t very long even on the longest days of the year. The coast of California takes a sharp turn west as it heads north and I’m as far south as you can be. Reno is further west than LA and even LA is further west than San Diego. They must get a whole extra hour of daylight in San Francisco.

I have memories of late daylight in Minnesota and even later light in Ireland, where I once visited in the summer. I could hitchhike into a town, get there at ten at night and still have enough daylight to find a place to stay.

I remember a man who talked about the earliest recordings of hillbilly music, collected by an anthropologist who wandered the Appalachian hollers to coax the locals to play their instruments into his microphone. The man wondered about those musical rustics, to whom the time of day meant very little because you got up when the sun rose and went to bed when it disappeared below the horizon.

Light these days is dimmer and more diffuse because it comes from power plants at night. We crowd next to the lamps in our homes and they dare us to stay up way beyond the end of the sun’s daily circuit. I don’t find the night exciting. I like my sleep and I feel sorry for people who are denied their right to restful darkness.

I don’t like seeing businesses that say they are open 24 hours. Why can’t they knock off at a reasonable hour like everyone else and just let their staff go home? But maybe it’s meant to be a comfort to unhappy people who have to work the overnight shift; cops, freight train conductors, early morning TV producers. Maybe 24-hour shops aren’t being greedy. They just want to give company to the misery that others have to endure.

I remember the great blackout last September when the lights went out for 4 million people in Southern California. Night fell and my neighbor had a blackout block party and sharp shadows crossed my street, but they weren’t from the streetlight but from a near full moon. For once, I didn’t miss the light of the sun.

At this time of year I feel like it’s all downhill, like a 25-year-old who knows he will never grow more brain cells than he will lose. Just as age takes us slowly toward dementia, the diminishing light will continue daily until December when night falls by 5 p.m. But maybe I should just shut up and enjoy summer solstice.

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