My big Christmas present last year was an Apple Watch. I spent a few weeks messing with its various bells and whistles, and especially its million easily changeable faces. Finally, maybe because I received it so close to the winter solstice, I settled on one called Solar Dial, which has a feature that tracks the day’s sunrise, sundown and overall length day-to-day. (Did you know there are three categories of twilight? Civil, nautical and astronomical. Fascinating.)
We’re ticking down to 2021’s shortest day. It’s not even 5 p.m., mid-December, and the sun is already dipping below the horizon, the customary Midwestern cloud cover as thick as a blanket, and if you’re feeling depressed, you’re not alone. Sunrise was just 10 minutes before 8 a.m. And we have more than a week of shrinking days to go.
I bring this up to remind you of this year’s annual Daylight Saving Time clamor, back in March. Remember? Cars driving off the road, people dropping in the streets from heart attacks, HOW CAN WE LET THIS CARNAGE CONTINUE, etc. We need year-round Daylight Saving Time, that will fix this! Enough with this changing! And so on. Sen. Marco Rubio has introduced a bill to make it so, across this great land of ours. Called it the Sunshine Protection Act, which tells you everything you need to know about Marco Rubio, in my opinion, but let’s lay that aside.
Say you got your wish, and we indeed have DST all the time. Let’s be Clarence the angel: OK, it’s Daylight Saving Time in December. It’s now 6 p.m., not 5, and the sun is almost gone. What do you feel like doing? Playing golf, going fishing? Nah, you’re headed home. It’s winter.
But rest up, because tomorrow morning is gonna be brutal. What time does your alarm go off? Let’s say 7 a.m. Ooh, sorry – it’s still nautical twilight at that hour, which means enough stars are still visible to navigate by, only the tiniest hint brighter than full dark. And while it’s dark now at 7, it’ll be light within the hour. In year-round DST, you might hit the snooze a few more times, but unless you plan on being late for work, you’re still getting up in darkness. If you work daytime hours, you’ll be commuting in the dark, too, because sunrise, in Detroit, at this time of year, won’t come until 9 a.m. Dropping off your kids at school in the dark, too, unless they’re walkers, in which case you better make sure they have reflective tape on their winter coats.
But-but-but, you stammer, like George Bailey confronting the nightmare of Pottersville. I didn’t want it like this! Of course you didn’t. But you live in Michigan, above the 42nd parallel, and this is simply the way it is at this time of year: Just over nine hours of daylight. Nothing we can do. In winter-dark Iceland, where you can drive a pipe into the ground and hit hot water, they have a naturally heated swimming pool in every city, town and village in the land. People paddle around in them (almost all are outdoors, and open year-round) and look at the northern lights; those people know how to winter. Us, we just drink and bitch.
Social media has given everyone in the world a platform to complain about every little thing, but maybe it’s time to admit the truth: Changing the clocks isn’t a terrible idea. Our lives are different in winter and summer, and we have good reason to bump the clocks a little – just an hour, c’mon, that’s not crazy – to accommodate them. In winter, when daylight is scarce, we need a little more in the morning, if only for safety. In summer, when we have an excess, it’s great to have more evening time to hang outdoors, go out in the boat, take a long bike ride, or just enjoy a long twilight in the backyard. It’s the most minor inconvenience, a first-world problem in every sense, to take a day or three to adjust to losing an hour of sleep on an early-spring Sunday. This country is soft, but the day we’re too soft to handle that, maybe we ought to hang it up.
Or maybe Marco Rubio, or here in Michigan, Sen. Jeff Irwin, an Ann Arbor Democrat, will get their way. As you trudge through a inky-dark morning some December down the road, rousting your kids out of bed with a cattle prod, just remember: I told you so. It really was a pretty wonderful life.
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