Sunday, December 21, 2008

The sun, and its place in reality

Do you have a window that faces southwest?
You can keep track of the universe from your window.

Today is the winter solstice. This evening, at sunset, look out your window and see where the sun sets.

Is there a tree or a telephone pole or a house chimney or a notch in the hills or ... I dunnoh ... the flag pole of your favorite Italian restaurant ... just to the north side of the setting sun?
(That's the right side of the sun if you're in the northern hemisphere.)

There's nothing there?
Well, go out and drive a big stake in the back yard or something.

Next June, on the 20th, come back and stand at the window at sunset. Mark the spot just to the south of the sun when it sets.
(That's left. You with me so far?)

You have created a net. Now you can play pingpong with the sun.

The sun will set between those two marks, every day, forever. The cradle of its setting travels slowly north. Then slowly south. Then slowly north ...

Your pre-societal ancestors saw the sun doing this and it filled them with dread and wonder. They knew then that the universe was not chaos, but a realm of law and rules, because -- look -- there was the very sun itself, obeying them.

When the sun got to the cold north end of its yearly bounce, everybody would
light bonfires,
(Yeah!!! Longer days coming!!! Warmth!!! Tender young lambs!!)
and get drunk
(Ale!!! Mead!! Wine!!)
and party
(Buxom wenches!! Studly dudes!)

We have responsibilities. Life is uncertain. We have to check the universe every once in a while to make sure it's running right.

If we stop paying attention, it might stop.

Sun ping pong.
You have to play to win.


  1. My birthday is on June 20th!! Hopefully it will be much warmer by then. :P

  2. Sounds like fun to play but hard to tunnel down through the mondo big snow drifts to mark the ping pong spot in this corner of the world...

    Congratulations on the Fresh Fiction listing. I concur.

    Helpful thoughts on yes/no agent. I'm revving up to start submitting, but finding that the last two unwritten chapters before 'the end' are killing me!

  3. Hi Katiebabs --

    Then you are a sun child, born on the longest day, or near enough.

    That has to be good luck.

    Though Hamlet said all kinda nice things about being born around Christmas, too.

  4. Hi M --

    Are there no Douglas firs soaring in the distant, snow-covered fields? If you can't get the neighborhood watch to throw up a menhir, a natural landmark is the next best thing.

    I know those who afflicted with several feet of snow are unlikely to be enthusiastic about it.

    I have endless gray rain.


    Much encouragement on that last 'hump' before finishing. It can be the hardest part.

  5. Thanks Jo! I love learning stuff like this. Wish I'd seen your post yesterday...
    If we're still in the same house - same city - next June, I will make a note to remember to pay attention to the sun... I'm sure I know where it set yesterday (shines right into the window in the far corner of our living room) but will pay more attention tonight...

  6. If you live in a country of strong sunlight, you can do this with a single long, straight post.

    At sunset, mark the shadow cast by the post. On the midsummer solstice, mark the shadow again.

    All year long, any day, at sunset, you can look at the sun shadow and your markings and know how much of the year is left.

    Once upon a time, we might have laid down an especially good chunck of rock on the shadow, to show when the first lamb was born or the date of the last frost.
    Then we'd see that coming the next year.
    Always useful to know.

    When we write historicals, we can consider the subtle differences in the way people thought about 'time'.

    Our characters are often bound to a single place. They 'read' the signs of time and seasons in the landscape.
    So the serving girl doesn't just wake up and look out the window and say to herself, "It's morning."

    She looks at the sun. If it's just peeking over the cow byre, she has time to dawdle. If it's up in the branches of the apple tree, she's in for it.

  7. come to think of it, there is an assortment of firs and old-growth maples handy. but I like the idea of erecting a menhir better!

  8. Hi M --

    They attribute the stone monuments on the landscape and the hill figures scored into the chalk to religious fervor.

    But did it start that way?

    I have this picture of everybody sitting around the mead hall, bored out of their skulls on a winter day, and somebody says ... 'I know! Let's go put up a hulking big stone to show where the sun stops and then we can all come back and get seriously drunk."

    Posts dug in. Big stones dragged upright. Lines cut in the turf.
    And the site got sacred later on.