Monday, January 19, 2015

Eliot was wrong: January is the cruelest month.

In six days the sun will set at 5pm. I've been keeping track of the accumulating minutes of additional daylight each day, +2 minutes 17 seconds, + 2 minutes 40 seconds, etc., divided disproportionately between sunrise and sunset, a little here, a little there.

And not enough anywhere.

It's the 5pm mark that seems to spill me over into fragments of hope. 5pm: the shift into evening, the close of the work day, the beginnings of the evening meal preparations; and in earlier times, the arrival of the evening paper and all that it contained. 5pm was when my father came home from work — until he didn't, after an untimely and early death.

5pm has always been about change, about the permission to let go of the day's requirements and slip into a more relaxed mode. Today it's about a glass of wine, the NYTimes crossword puzzle, playtime with the cats. (Even they recognize the hour.)

Winter is once again beating me up. I just cut myself two pieces of a lovely cornbread I made yesterday, heated with butter. Dinner, and almost like cake. In the middle of January, it's hard to face a cold salad.

I googled "January is the cruelest month" (a riff on Eliot's "April is the cruelest month") and the first hit was a NYTimes article, by Neil Shubin (full text here), that spins a marvelous perspective on this ever-challenging battle with the shifting seasons:

"Our clocks tie us not only to other creatures, but also to the formation of the solar system itself. The spinning of the earth and rotation of the moon form a backbeat that thumps inside the chemistry of our cells. The Apollo missions returned more than 840 pounds of moon rock and soil samples. Analysis of minerals inside reveals that they have a chemical signature similar to those of Earth’s crust and are in this respect unique among other bodies of the solar system. 

The current theory that accounts for all the evidence is that a Mars-size asteroid hit the Earth over four billion years ago. The mélange of Earth’s crust and asteroid debris ejected into space, ultimately congealing as the moon and tilting the primordial Earth. 

With that great cataclysm came our seasons, months and the duration of days. Our internal timepieces, and some of the maladies we suffer, lie as artifacts of this moment in our planet’s history." 

Small comfort knowing that my acute awareness of winter's day-length points even more to my insignificance as a single organism in the universe, at once an artifact of primeval debris and just a 58 year old woman at 47.6097 degrees N and 122.3331 degrees W trying her best to slog her way through yet another sunrise/sunset.

But mostly ticking off the days until the light really returns: 5pm, January 25th.  


  1. My only real interest is in morning daylight time. I have two desperate dogs to walk, and it's only just daylight here at 8am. This means that by the time I've done with them it's already 8.30am. However, I do get up at 5.30am every morning, and within those 3 hours I do accomplish quite a lot. I should add that after all this, another family member is still in bed!!!

  2. I'm not a morning person, don't care when the sun comes up, but I do appreciate long sunny afternoons sliding slowly into golden evenings. I personally think February is the cruelest month, it's short, it should slide by quickly, but it doesn't.

  3. I remember a time when 5 pm signaled the colicky baby to begin her screaming. Not missing that.

    Would equatorial living suit you better? No dark weeks upon weeks of grey overcast skies (which I hate more than rain). I think I could thrive in equatorial regions....

    1. Equatorial sounds lovely, but honestly, I think I'd miss the contrasts we "enjoy" here! Either that or I just like to suffer ;-)

  4. I really loved this post, and the link you shared to the article. Sending you a sunny hello from Thailand, where it is pretty equatorial... but like you, even though I'm not complaining, I also miss those seasons.

    And by now Jan 25 has arrived!