Rejoice: The sun returns!

The solstice snuck up on me this year. The calendar shows it as being today, which it is if you live east of the United States. But it was actually a few minutes before midnight on the east coast and more than an hour before midnight here.

Happily, Geoff Landis (one of my Clarion instructors) posted a “happy solstice” message on Facebook (with a link to an astronomy site with the details) a few hours before the event, so I was able to appreciate it prospectively.

The longest night of the year has come and gone. I’m glad that’s over.

Why, in just six weeks, it’ll be Groundhog’s Day! And once that happens, it’ll be time start looking for our early spring!

Sunrise?

My friend Chuck​ likes to point out that we’ve already reached the worst of the winter darkness: Tomorrow the sun will set at 4:27 PM, and that’s as bad as it will get. As early as December 12th the sun won’t set until 4:28, and it just gets better from there.

For people working a regular job, a later sunset is a big deal (although it’s not really a big deal until January 24th, when sunset time is finally after 5:00 PM).

For me, though, it’s sunrise that really matters, and that keeps getting worse for a long while yet. We don’t hit our latest sunrise until December 30th when it’s not until 7:15 AM—and then it just stays there for almost two weeks. Things don’t really start getting better until January 12th, when the sun rises at 7:14.

So really, I should be luxuriating in the relatively early sunrise this morning. The sun will be up at 6:59 AM—before 7:00! Why, it won’t be this good again until February 5th! That’s after Groundhog’s Day!!!

(All these dates and times local to Savoy, Illinois in 2015–2016. Ephemeris data for your location will vary. But if you live in the mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, they won’t vary by enough.)

This tree, with some sort of little red fruits all covered in ice by a freezing fog, kinda looks sunrise pink. Maybe I could pretend it is the dawn. Of course, before dawn it’s too dark to see it.

Frosty pink

Despite my anticipatory angst, I’m actually holding up pretty well so far. I’m sure the extra time spent walking outdoors is helping. Yesterday, I walked to my taiji class, then walked around during the time between the two classes (with Jackie for the first half of her walk home, and then around playing Ingress), and then walked home again after my second class. It was just a little over 6 miles, but my longest walk in a good while. I’m sure the two hours of taiji helped as well.

Support your local groundhog

Weather is a local phenomenon. Oh, weather systems can cover half a continent, but the weather on the north edge of a huge weather system will be entirely different from the weather at the south edge. And any particular spot on the planet sees a unique sequence of weather systems, somewhat different from those seen by other nearby spots, and entirely different from those seen by more distant spots.

This is why I’ve always been completely baffled by celebrity groundhogs.

It makes no more sense to pay attention to the shadows of distant groundhogs than it makes to pay attention to the forecasts of distant meteorologists. In fact, it makes much less sense—a distant meteorologist has the skills and technology to produce a useful forecast for your local area. But I have no more interest in what some celebrity groundhog sees when he emerges from his burrow than I have in the local weather report for Hong Kong or Timbuktu.

What matters is what your local groundhog sees when he emerges from his burrow this morning! Pay no attention to the shadows of distant groundhogs, whatever their celebrity status!

Hereabouts, it’s rather foggy, assuring us of an early spring.

Wildlife audience for our exercise

This is the grassy spot near the rear of our apartment complex where we do our taiji practice.

Today’s practice was special because we had an audience: a rabbit, a squirrel, three crows, and two juvenile groundhogs showed up to take an interest in our activity. They didn’t seem troubled (although when a guy came past with a dog on a leash, the rabbit most definitely took notice).

First thing in the morning I’d gone for a run and spotted a gazillion cedar waxwings. (Note: number of cedar waxwings approximate.) Actually, they would have been in this picture, too. Just past the little hill is the Copper Slough, and just across it is the path that runs around Kaufman lake, and it was just about here that I saw them.

I added a second lap to my usual run around Kaufman Lake, bringing the distance up to 2.41 miles—my longest run this season, and good progress toward getting back in shape.

After my run, Jackie and I went for a bike ride. We were testing both the route and ourselves for a possible ride to Philo in a few days. The ride to Philo, with a stop at the Philo Tavern for lunch, is our traditional first long ride of the year. Today’s ride covered the first half of the route to Philo, then headed back into town with a stop at Meadowbrook Park, making it a 17-mile loop. That went fine, so we figure the 28 mile round trip to Philo should be doable no problem.

We’re starting to get all sorts of wild ideas about possible long rides later in the summer. But our local wildlife audience is keeping things pretty wild right here at home.

My favorite holiday: Groundhog’s Day

I’m a latecomer to Groundhog’s Day fandom. I blame my second-grade teacher. She told us about the holiday, but who somehow failed to get through to me that it’s a joke.

That unfortunate early experience aside, the cross-quarter date is important to me. Just like Halloween marks the time when I tend to start worrying about the approaching dark days of winter, Groundhog’s Day is when I start to feel like the worst is past.

That wasn’t always true. I used to think that February was the worst part of winter. It always felt bitterly unfair that I’d (somehow) make it through January, only to have to confront another whole month of winter—with no guarantee of relief in March either. (We often get mild weather starting in late March, but it’s also entirely possible to get a whole winter’s worth of snow in the first few weeks of spring.)

But the sun follows a more rigid schedule. The days will get longer—and at an increasingly rapid pace over the next few weeks. And, despite the idiosyncrasies of the weather in any particular year, the longer days will lead to warmer days. It would take a volcano to make it otherwise.

So, I’m a fan of Groundhog’s Day and its promise of spring—whether early or on its regular schedule.

Spotting wildlife

Great Hall at Union Station
Great Hall at Union Station

Just home from visiting my Dad in Kalamazoo.

Had a good eye for spotting wildlife on this trip.  I spotted a young raccoon about halfway up a tree (visible from where I was sitting at the table in Katy’s house).  Later, from the conversation nook, I spotted a stuffelbeam (aka groundhog), that I suspect had a den very near the house.  A bunch of spicebush butterflies appeared on the last evening we were in Kalamazoo—perhaps just-emerged from their chrysalises (as we hadn’t seen any before), and later a hooded warbler that came to bathe at the pool outside the dining room window.  There were lots of hummingbirds at the feeders, plus the usual birds—I got a good look at a cardinal that came close to the window, and heard several crows that seemed unhappy to have us come home after the art show.

That was not the end of it.  I got a great look at a chipmunk just outside the window, and spotted two feral cats (unwelcome visitors on the property, even though I suggested that cats would be the one effective way to cut down on the mice chewing up the electrical wiring in the cars).  My dad spotted a turkey just outside the dining room and we all got a look at it.  A pair of phoebes had built a nest just under the eaves of the screened-in porch.  We could see the female sitting on the nest, and then spotted her again when she took a break in the late afternoon, sitting and preening for perhaps 15 minutes before returning to the nest.  And then, just twenty minutes or half an hour outside of Kalamazoo, I spotted a fawn just outside of some woods the track ran through.  (Poor Jackie didn’t get to see the fawn, as we zipped past in just a few seconds.  I think she got a look at everything else.)

I got several useful things done—did the crucial bits of setting up my dad’s website to use WordPress (it had previously been hand-coded html) and got two of their old computers decommissioned (deleted and overwrote the data on one’s disk drive; removed and smashed with a sledgehammer the disk drive from the other).

We went to the art show (the reason for visiting this weekend rather than some other), and got to see a lot of really nice art.  Visited the booth of Peter Czuk, an artist who crafts things from wood.  Richard and Katy had years ago given me a letter opener that he’d made, and (as I actually use it to open letters) the sharp edge had gotten dull.  I’d talked to him about it last year and he’d indicated that he could sharpen it, so this year I brought it along and got a fresh edge put on it.  Hopefully now it’ll once again open letters nicely for years to come.

Also at the art show, got a chance to chat with Steve Curl, one of Steven’s childhood friends, who is working as an artist these days, making sculptures of robots and ray guns.  (But who oddly doesn’t seem to have a website.)

We took the train both ways.  Our layover on the way up was just long enough for lunch.  On the return trip it was a bit longer, so we had some time to hang out in the great hall.  I spent a few minutes trying to find a way to photograph it in a way that captured what a great space it is.  I thought this picture was sort of okay.

All in all a great trip.  Despite the long list of things seen and done, we mostly just visited with the family and did some walking.