November 17, 2017

What Time Is It Anyway?

Rehoboth Ramblings

Posted

We’re back to the long dark nights of Eastern Standard Time now (or Winter Time, as I call it). To borrow a phrase from the poet Dylan Thomas that means something very different and more eternal, I do not go gentle into that good night this time of year. I don’t exactly rage against the dying of the light, but I certainly complain enough. The sun sets around 4:15 in mid-December and pitch darkness follows soon after.

I also think of that line from Emily Dickinson: “There’s a certain Slant of Light Winter Afternoons – That oppresses, like the heft of Cathedral Tunes”. I know how she feels, though it isn’t winter yet and the golden sunlight on autumn afternoons is very beautiful while it lasts. But the afternoon light starts to slant right after lunch now and the sun is so low in the sky it can be hard on your eyes while driving.

I often wonder if we are still afraid of the dark on some level, even in this age of electric lights everywhere. It is harder to see things in the dark, especially the older your eyes get. When you don’t feel comfortable driving anywhere but a few nearby places on familiar side roads, it feels like someone lopped three or four hours off your day in the winter, confining you to the house that much earlier unless someone else can do the driving.

There is apparently a movement afoot in Massachusetts to switch us to the Atlantic Standard Time zone that the Canadian Maritimes belong to. That is, we’d be an hour ahead of New York. If you look at a map, you’ll see how much further east New England is than the rest of the East Coast.

There was an article in the Providence Journal on Oct. 14 and one in the Boston Globe on Sept. 22 on this timely topic. Among other interesting facts, it says that the federal government does not allow for Daylight Savings Time all year long. I wonder why not. So if we want lighter evenings in the winter we would have to go to Atlantic Standard Time all year. Also, this would only work if all of New England switched to the Atlantic Time zone together.

If you think talking about politics is contentious, try talking to people about any proposed time changes. Feelings run high on both sides of the issue. Opponents say the sun will rise too late and children will be going to school in the dark. On Atlantic Time, we’d be one hour closer to Europe, an advantage for transatlantic trips. But on the other hand, we’d be one hour ahead of New York, two hours ahead of Chicago, three hours ahead of Denver, and four hours ahead of California. Not such a good trade-off in my view.

The Eastern Standard Time Zone is pretty wide. In its western part (say, Ohio and Indiana), sunrise occurs 45 minutes to an hour later than here. So while you’ll see daylight in Ohio until past 5:30 p.m. in December, the sun doesn’t come up until 8 a.m. or so. Then there are a few states in the middle of the country that are split between two time zones. Now that would be confusing.

No matter what happens to the clock in November and March, no one is “saving” any daylight. There is only so much sunlight to go around and in December it’s only about nine hours, or six hours less than in June. I love the saying that going to Daylight Savings Time is like cutting several inches off the bottom of a blanket and sewing it to the top and expecting to have a longer blanket. But the dark could be worse. We could live in Alaska or Scandinavia, though how people there stand the cold and dark in winter I don’t know.

Last June, when I would wake to hear the birds’ dawn chorus, I checked the clock and saw that it was 4:30. This is on Daylight Savings Time; if we had Eastern Standard Time like in the old days, it would have been 3:30 a.m., which would mean it would start to get dark by 7:30 p.m. even in June. This is a depressing thought.

So I don’t want Eastern Standard Time all year long but neither do I want to go to Atlantic Standard Time all year. I’d prefer to stick with our current arrangement, regardless of the “jet lag” feeling for a few days in spring and fall. I always look forward to the return of Daylight Savings Time in March. And whatever time it is, sometimes it seems to go by awfully fast these days.

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