In this bleakest, dullest, darkest time of the year, there’s comfort in photoperiodism.
Once the winter solstice occurs just before Christmas, the days begin to slowly but steadily lengthen in the march towards spring and summer. Sure, the worst of winter’s cold and snow occurs after the days have reached their shortest point and have begun to lengthen, just as the worst of summer’s heat occurs after the days have reached their longest point and have begun to shorten after the summer solstice in June.
But even when the temperature drops and snow is falling — maybe especially then — there’s something comforting about the realization that today is a couple of minutes longer than yesterday and that tomorrow will be longer still.
On Tuesday, the length of the day in our part of the world was officially longer than 10 hours for the first time since before Thanksgiving — 10 hours and a minute, to be exact. The sun set on Tuesday nearly 15 minutes later than it did at the first of the month, when it was dipping behind the horizon at around 5:30 p.m. each evening, just as many of us were arriving home from work. And in just a couple more weeks, when the calendar flips to February, the sunset will not occur until after 6 p.m. each evening.
Maybe that seems like a grasping of straws for the winter-weary, and maybe it is. After all, in a couple of weeks, when that sunball is hanging around in the sky until 6 p.m. each evening, winter weather that is notably absent at the moment is likely to come back with a vengeance, if current atmospheric signals prove correct. Still, we’re a society that longs for a sign — any sign — that the season we loathe most is almost over, which is why we actually have a day on the calendar marked “Groundhog Day.” And here’s the truth: the setting sun is a far better indicator of winter’s pending departure than any groundhog from Punxsutawney or any other dot on the map.
If you want to get really technical, the sun set at 49 minutes and nine seconds after the hour of five o’clock on Tuesday, and it will set at 52 minutes and 15 seconds after the hour of five o’clock as we end the work week on Friday. So in three short days we will have gained three minutes and six seconds of extra daylight in the evenings. And by the time the next work week is complete, the sun will not set until 59 minutes and 41 seconds after the hour of five o’clock and we will have gained an additional seven minutes and 26 seconds of daylight.
Just to eyeball it, you can’t tell that today was longer than yesterday, or that the sun hung around for just a minute or two longer.
But, just to eyeball it, you can’t see grass growing, either. But one day leads to another and it isn’t long before you’re dragging out the mower.
And at this point, the sound of a lawn mower would be music to all our ears.