A funny thing happened over the last weekend. It suddenly was still light at 7:00. Just a day before, darkness had descended on my part of the world (here in Sacramento, CA) by that hour, but then, suddenly last Sunday, as I walked from my office to my car at around 7, I did so in a definite glow of sunshine, twilight to be sure, but not pitch darkness as had been the case just a day before.
What caused this miraculous occurrence was, of course, the resumption of Daylight Saving Time, that glorious event that causes us to lose an hour of sleep on one Saturday night to gain an extra hour of sunlight for the next eight months.
And here in Sacramento, the timing couldn’t have been better, since we are now into our early Spring anyway, with our “nasty” winter temperatures of mid-50 highs seemingly in the past as we enjoy day after day of temps upwards of 70 and higher. (Never mind that we are in the third year of a major drought that will have serious consequences for our farmers this summer; we’re just happy to have winter behind us.)
Daylight Saving Time has been with us for almost 100 years (first introduced by federal legislation in 1918, then repealed a year later and left to the states to enact). It is currently recognized in 48 states (only Hawaii and Arizona are holdouts). It kicks in earlier now (by almost a month) than it used to, and lasts a week longer (into the first week of November), which is fine by me. How can you not want more daylight? Isn’t it natural to feel more energized when the sun is shining? Think about what makes rainy days so gloomy. It can’t be the fact of the moisture, since, as we know all too well, we need the water to live.
No, the reason rainy days tend to be a little depressing is that our sun is hidden from us, making it just a little (maybe even a lot) darker. Darkness induces lethargy; it makes us sleepy. Think about it: who, other than little children, likes to sleep with the lights on? If you study various cures for insomnia, and believe me I have, one of the basics is to make sure your bedroom is dark. Lights are energizing, and sunlight is the ultimate light bulb.
Thomas Jefferson is said to have lived in his later years by the rising and setting of the sun, meaning he probably got a lot more done in the summer than in the winter, since, at Monticello, the hours of daylight varied from only nine hours at the onset of winter to a full fifteen hours at the start of summer. Of course, he lived before the light bulb invention, which has made working by one’s desk into the late hours of the night much more convenient. (Working by candlelight was probably more of a disincentive back in the day.)
But in terms of feeling energized, nothing beats having the light from the sun. And this Daylight Saving Time idea is a pretty neat trick, giving us a sense of longer days just by moving the clock ahead one hour.
It’s mostly psychological, of course. We don’t really add an hour of sunlight with DST. We just move it from the morning to the evening. But, since most of us (especially those of us who work a traditional 9 to 5 shift) think of the enjoyable part of our day as starting when we get home from work, the trade-off of added daylight in the evening for a later sunrise is a no-brainer (unless you live in Hawaii or Arizona, apparently).
I’m told that farmers don’t like DST, partly because it makes their early morning chores more difficult (who wants to milk old Daisy in darkness?). And there may be others who regard late night lightness with disdain. I have a friend who turns in every night at 8:30 (and rises at 4:30). She must not like the late sunset that we get in June and early July, when it is still light past 9pm.
For me, give me those evening hours of sunshine. I just can’t get enough of it. I used to especially love it when I was a kid and my buddies and I would play baseball games that lasted forever. Even now, it’s so much easier to schedule a round of golf knowing that even a slow round won’t be ruined by darkness.
Of course, on another level, it’s kind of silly to obsess about the setting of the sun and wanting to have more time to do things in daylight. I mean, in the end, what are we doing with all that added time? What should we be doing with it?
In his “A New Earth,” Eckhart Tolle urges us to discount time entirely. His view is that obsession over time is a way to avoid living in the moment, which, he professes, is the path to that sense of oneness that, he claims, is the best way to free ourselves from the stresses and anxieties that keep people like him in business. It’s a curious perspective, at least in the real world. (Eckhart does acknowledge, somewhat paradoxically, that we do need time as a means of providing organizational structure in our lives.)
Time is fleeting, even as it is constant. No one, even Mr. Tolle, has suggested an alternative to the 24-hour day or the passing of the seasons or the aging of the body. I tell my law students that time is their ally until they abuse it, by which I mean that they can benefit from structuring their lives around time or destroy their lives by completely ignoring it. (I don’t preach Tolle to them.) They, like all of us, only have so much time (in a given day, in our lives) to do whatever it is we undertake to do.
Daylight Saving Time doesn’t change that reality. But it does make the time we have seem more invigorating.