The sun rose January 23, at 7:16 a.m., and set at 4:58 p.m., giving us 9 hours and 43 minutes of daylight. It’s not a dramatically different amount from the day before, or from last week, but this week I felt it had a discernibly different quality. Even on a day when the temperature will not get out of the 20s, the sun is high enough in the sky that when a sunbeam hits your face there’s a warmth to it.
I know I’m not the only one who experiences the sun this way. On most of the very gray mornings we’ve had recently, when I’ve arrived at the barn the sheep have been largely inside, eating hay at their manger. But on this bright sunny morning when I arrived the vast majority of the flock were outside the east door of the barn. Sheltered from the west wind by the barn wall, they were mostly placidly ruminating on the ground, faces craned to the sun, taking it in. Lillie, Eric’s dog, arrives back next week. After morning chores, if the weather cooperates, she will station herself on the driveway, where the gravel stones radiate back heat, and will spend much of the day basking. Humans are not the only sun worshipers.
Two months ago I wrote a bulletin about entering the darkest time of year, the month before and after winter solstice. I proposed that we could benefit spiritually if we viewed the darkness as a protective cocoon rather than a threat. Of course, I had no idea just how dark in every sense that period would turn out to be. The psychological challenge of low daylight paled in comparison to the stress of an intensifying pandemic and my fury at an insurrectionist fringe, egged on by a desperate wannabe despot, trying to destroy our democracy. We’ve undoubtedly all been shaken by having seen exposed in the full light of day what had been allowed to grow in dark corners. .
All those challenges have ebbed a bit this week. Watching Joe Biden and Kamala Harris being sworn in, I cried periodically, as much in relief as in joy. As I cried, I found myself wondering whether our founding fathers, whose largely agrarian orientation made them highly conscious of the cycles of light, had set January 20 as Inauguration Day precisely because it marked our emergence from the darkest segment of the year. On November 21, when I wrote about entering the period of darkness, we had 9 hours and 35 minutes of sunlight here in Germantown. The sunlight diminished from then until the winter solstice, and it did not exceed the November 21 sunlight total again until Inauguration Day, when we had 9 hours and 36 minutes.
My speculation was wrong. In fact, the founding fathers did not set January 20 as Inauguration Day at all. The Constitution originally made March 4 the beginning of the President’s term. It was not moved back to January 20 until adoption of the Twentieth Amendment in 1937. Our country was then no longer a mostly agrarian one, and the authors of the amendment were apparently motivated not by the symbolic power of returning sunlight but rather by a desire to shorten the lame duck period as much as possible, while allowing enough time for all the steps required for the appointment of electors, voting of the electoral college and other formalities required before swearing in.
My dashed fantasy about the significance of January 20 has not, however, diminished my sense that the change in sunlight signals easier times ahead. The reasonably balmy winter weather we’ve been having recently has made life on the farm much easier than it often is in January. The sheep have been choosing to spend their days on the pasture just north of the barn, munching on the remaining grass there. As a result, they haven’t been eating as much hay, for which I’m grateful; good quality hay has been in short supply after last summer’s near drought. On the back pasture, the cows that I expected would start grazing there in May have arrived already. My solution to the farm transition, to phase out the most demanding parts of my own operation by leasing out the back pastures to a nearby farmer for his cattle to graze, is under way.
On the personal side, within a day of the opening of COVID-19 vaccinations to the over 65 population last week, I was able to snag a vaccination slot for January 28. I am hopeful that a new competent and committed federal approach to distribution will hasten vaccination for everyone.
A sunny moment of optimism in late January is not a new phenomenon for me. The change in the light has often in the past led me to a burst of “spring is just around the corner” fever, which in turn would lead my late partner, Peter, to remind me how long and wintry February and March could be. And perhaps these are all just straws I am grasping at: frissons of hope fighting upstream against a torrent of expectations, both genetically programmed and informed by observation, that my world and the larger one I inhabit are in imminent danger of falling apart. But I’d like to think otherwise.
I am reminded of an incident about a half hour after the collapse of the World Trade Center’s South Tower on the morning of September 11, 2001. I was trying to get to my apartment across the street from the tower to find Peter. The air was still brown with particles of dust, and I came upon a neighbor standing frozen in fear in the middle of the road, at the corner of Church and Cedar Streets, holding her cat carrier. Shafts of light were beginning to come through the thick air, and a firefighter, who would not let me approach closer to home, told us to “go for the sunlight.” We followed his instructions. Eventually we got to it.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Cheese pumpkins, $1/lb
CHICKENS: They were quite uniform in size, all just around 6 lbs, a few under. We’ve already had one and the freedom rangers have been what you want them to be, deeply flavorful. They are now frozen. $6/lb. Separately, bags of chicken livers, also $6/lb.
Email us your order at email@example.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.