Following the Sun: Earth Science 101

by Elizabeth Cunningham

For twenty-six years I lived in a house with a hill to the south and east. Most times of the year by the time I saw the sun, it had been up for hours and had perhaps once again determined there was nothing new under it. Only in winter could I see it rise from my bedroom. It appeared on the hill like a bright match about to ignite the bare winter wood.

On June 25th we moved to High Valley and as I have mentioned here before, I have been getting up early every day to do chi gung on the dock at the pond, for most of the summer the sunniest place at sunrise. I have written more than one haiku about the sun climbing the spruce trees across the pond. Recently, after a week of cloudy weather, I noted that the sun had moved over to a maple tree, but still the dock had plenty of sun.

This week there is no denying the sun has quit this spot. I have to walk past the dock to stand for a moment in a patch of sun. Before I finish preliminary exercises, the sun has brushed the end of the dock and hurried on. Yes, hurried. That’s how it seems to me. No gradual: now it rises in the maple tree and now over the barn. It is rising in a southward curve, casting one shadow and then another and another. And of course, each day it is rising later.

None of these observations are news. Every year the earth makes an elliptical orbit around the sun, its axis tilting away and towards, giving those of us in northern and southern hemispheres a palpable summer and winter. This is grade school stuff. Except suddenly it isn’t or maybe I am reverting to that age (I believe it’s called latency) when discovering things like the path of the sun or the phases of the moon can hold your attention, because you are not thinking about sex, or not all the time. I still do think about sex, but figuring out why the sun appears to be moving faster than it was a few weeks ago is occupying more and more mental space.

I would like to do a science project, and find a place where I can track the sun’s movement in miniature for a year. I have not yet found a place where there is no shade all day. So I expect I will continue to follow the sun every morning, seeking a patch of early light and seeing how long I can stay in it before it moves. I doubt I will get very scientific in my measurements, but I will continue to write haiku. And I will continue to do my chi gung practice early when the sun gives at least the illusion that everything under it is new.

A few thoughts on personification

We do it. I just did it with the sun. We name hurricanes. If your region or home was devastated by Irene, my heart is with you. Though we were in its predicted path, the east side of the Hudson River got off lightly. We also didn’t feel the recent earthquake, though only fifteen minutes away, others did. What I want to say is that people are quick to ascribe motivation to disasters—God’s or Gaia’s. People on both sides of the political spectrum do it. We like to believe that some force larger than ourselves shares our views and our judgments.

I wish we would all just become curious. There is some evidence of a causal relation between the recent earthquake and fracking. There is also considerable evidence that global warming will result in more frequent and volatile storms and rising seas. But who is affected, where and why, is beyond our ken. I just heard from a neighbor who lives ten minutes from me whose road was washed out. Here we had no damage at all—this time. Was it because I walked out early into the storm and asked Irene not to harm my trees?

I don’t need to know the answer to that question. And I will continue to talk to storms and trees and birds and flowers and insects, because that is my nature. Sometimes with familiar trees and animals, I am pretty sure the conversation is two-sided. But the trees speak like trees. And my translation is just that, a translation. Storms and earthquakes also speak. Let’s do our best to learn their languages before we tell other people what they mean.

Note from Maeve

I am a weather witch, and I pretty much concur with Eliz. BTW Tim is going to be giving me blog assignments soon as the publication date for Red-Robed Priestess gets closer. If you have a venue for reviewing Red-Robed Priestess or interviewing Eliz—or me!—let Tim know: tim@monkfishpublishing.com 

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2 comments

Unknown September 1, 2011 - 1:00 pm

Sometimes, it seems, we are lucky, or blessed, and other times not. We were lucky on the eastern side of the Hudson, up in the hills, to have only rain (about 9 inches) from Irene, and lucky that we had many streams and hills, so that the water could run off without much damage.

We were blessed in not having much wind at all. Wind would have brought down scores of trees just in our immediate vicinity, because their feet were already wet from recurrent thunderstorms. We would still be without power if that had happened.

Instead, we lost power the weekend before, from a thunderstorm, but didn't lose it from Irene. Power was restored last week in less than 12 hours.

I don't take that as judgement or blessing; I take it as just the way things happen.

Among polytheists, there was always some god or goddess who could be blamed–and propitiated–or thanked–and propitiated–depending on what happened, and enough freaky things always happened to inspire all sorts of stories of machinations and intrigues among the gods.

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Brooke September 19, 2011 - 3:37 am

Good points. I'm glad you were okay. Love imagining you in your mornings out communicating with nature, giving it a voice, but ready to question your interpretation. Love the idea of being curious. I'm with you on that!

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