I’ve been building an ever-rising brush pile in my backyard. Each day the stack climbs a little higher just the like sun’s been doing since the first day of winter. Today at 10:54 a.m. (Central Time) it tops out at its highest point in the sky when its rays are most direct and the day expands to its greatest length.
All that luscious daylight. So much time to get things done. Or at least feel like I should get things done. My favorite part of the abundant light is summer are the evening twilights. I love how long dusk lasts. And after a hot day it feels just right to kick along the dirt road, thumbs hooked over the flaps of my front pockets, meandering and smelling the flowery air.
Some people (like me) will remind you that it’s all downhill after the solstice. Where else is there to go after the sun god has arrived at the pinnacle of the sky? Down, down, down. Starting at 10:55 a.m. today it will ease every so slowly over the top of the hump, like a roller coaster ready to pitch down an incline, and start its downward descent. But instead of plunging, the sun’s schleps along, taking six whole months to slide to the bottom of its yearly track. But sure as disappearing daylight, it has no other direction to go the moment it’s finished with its solstice high.
The yearly up and down bobbing of the sun is caused by the tilt of Earth’s axis. No tilt, no bobbing. Our axis is tipped 23.5°, so the sun appears as high as 23.5 degrees above the celestial equator (the imaginary extension of Earth’s equator into the sky) in summer and 23.5° below the equator in the winter. You can picture the celestial equator as an arc cutting midway across the southern sky from much of the U.S.
Now imagine if Earth’s axis were tipped 50° instead. From mid-northern latitudes, say in Chicago, the sun would lie 50° below the celestial equator and never rise above the horizon around the time of winter solstice. Around the time of summer solstice it would move beyond the overhead point and stand high in the northern sky. The new solar extremes would lead to a more extreme climate for the Windy City. The opposite would be true if Earth’s axis had 0° tip. The sun would keep the same path across the sky every day of the year, faithfully tracking along the celestial equator — Chicagoans would experience an eternal spring.
I salute summer for its long days, abundant life and sensual delights. One aspect of that abundance is the number of hairy and fluffy seeds flying through the air this time of year. Many are from dandelions and area trees. Using a tree trunk to block the blazing sun yesterday, I couldn’t believe my eyes at the virtual snowstorm of fluffy seeds flying by. Absolutely mesmerizing. If you do this, never look directly at the sun. Hide it with a tree branch or roofline, focus the binoculars into the distance near the sun to see the hurried flight of life.