Leaning Toward the Sun

There are a lot of things in this world I don’t understand: 

  • Mean people
  • Why dogs don’t live longer
  • Cancer, Alzheimer’s, and all of the other diseases that cut our loved ones’ lives short
  • Why my brother Pat was born with all of the artistic talent, while I was born with none
  • Linear algebra – My son Dawson understands it, and I accept that he has gifts that I do not
  • Why people litter
  • And 456,294,234,567 other things that only ChatGPT knows (well, sometimes it’s wrong, but that won’t matter . . . unless it’s disastrous) and is eager to plagiarize in well-written prose

Understanding something, even a little bit, provides a sense of satisfaction that is hard to describe. I don’t change my oil any more, but I do know how to do it. I know public education pretty darn well. And I know enough about music, swimming, golf, cooking, website development, writing, and a few other things to appreciate those who are truly gifted at it. For me, the search for understanding is about leaning into what you want to be better at and what makes our lives on this planet so wonderful.

Let’s start with the Sun. I am no astronomer, but I love understanding why we have our seasons. I’ve written about this before, but I think we should all know our planet’s relationship to the Sun and why it causes seasons. Thousands of years ago, without the aid of the amazing Hubble or Webb telescopes, or even Copernicus’s and Einstein’s theories, Native American and other cultures around the world understood the significance of the solstices and equinoxes. In fact, I think they understood this science better than most of us do today. Right now, as we are about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice, Earth’s Northern Hemisphere (which is where most of this blog’s readers live) is leaning more and more into the Sun each day. By the time we get to the summer solstice on June 21, the Northern Hemisphere will be leaning a full 23.4 degrees into the Sun.

That’s the magic number – 23.4 degrees. Earth leans that far off its axis. On December 21, the Northern Hemisphere leans that far away from the Sun, and on June 21, we lean that far towards it. Like the Earth, I’m trying to lean into the Sun as we approach the summer solstice.

Who doesn’t love leaning into the Sun? My dogs certainly love it. They will find a spot where the late morning sun shines through a glass door and just stay there, moving slowly with the Sun as its angle changes. As I’ve said before, I should strive to be more like my dogs. We have had a long, gray, and wet winter in southern California. It’s like I’m in Seattle. It’s like I’m living in a perpetual The Mamas and The Papas song. My friend Chris wrote in a recent post, “In April, California combs out her long, wet hair, and the hillsides turn silky and gold.” (I lean into his writing like the Sun – that is a great line.)

Last weekend was the first sunny and warm one in months. I leaned into it with five hours of pickleball, outdoor walks, and cooking outside. I haven’t played golf in months, but I’m hoping that can be part of this lean as well. 

I don’t like it when I feel like life is happening to me. Sometimes, way more than I would like, it’s unavoidable. But life is more meaningful to me when I am leaning toward something. My days are more worthwhile when I’m fully aware of my desire to carpe that diem, to complete a task, to learn something new or get better at something I love to do, to help another person, to make the most of beautiful weather, to enjoy a fleeting moment, to make the most of a shining sun that I haven’t seen in a while, or anything else that makes me feel like I’m making the most of a day. If we do that on enough days, we start making the most of our lives.

So, you go, Earth! Continue leaning into the Sun on your rotational journey. As for me, I plan to lean just as hard, toward our Sun and toward other endeavors to make the most of each day.

To get updates on when my next post comes out, please click here.

Finding Wonder and Beauty in the Solstice Darkness

Twenty-three and a half degrees. Actually, is 23.4 degrees, but let’s not get too technical. It’s going to change anyway. That’s the tilt of the earth. Paraphrasing the classic Sam Cooke song, “Don’t know much about astronomy,” but I’ll say it – I am geeked-out-over-the-moon-fascinated by the tilt of the Earth’s axis.

Tuesday was the Winter Solstice. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s the shortest and darkest day of the year. One of the super cool things about hanging out with me is that on days like the solstice, I ask whoever will (or has to) listen, “And do you know why we have a solstice?” And the even cooler thing about enjoying my company is that whether or not you want to hear it, I will launch into the answer.

I ask whoever will (or has to) listen, “And do you know why we have a solstice?” And the even cooler thing about enjoying my company is that whether or not you want to hear it, I will launch into the answer.

It’s all about the tilt of the earth. Let’s review, shall we?

  • The earth is tilted at 23.4 degrees.
  • The tilt was caused by an ancient collision with a planet-sized body, that may have also resulted in the creation of the moon. (Did you feel your mind explode a little there?)
  • Right now, in the Northern Hemisphere, we are tilted as far away as we will get from the sun, which means the days are shorter, the nights are longer, and we get far less heat from the sun.
  • There was no sunset on Antarctica on Tuesday night, and there was no light shining on Santa’s home. See 1-minute video of the sun doing a 24-hour circle dance above Antarctica here. (I did not find a video on the darkness of the North Pole – seems like it would be, well, dark.)
  • Our 23.4-degree axis points directly at Polaris, which is the Northern Hemisphere’s North Star.

I bet right now most of you still reading are saying, I wish I could hang out with Mike and hear that description four times a year, with every solstice or equinox. You are not alone. If you work on it, you can learn to roll your eyes as well as my family or co-workers do.

So on this special day, inspired by the day’s brevity and the longest night, I tried to make the most of it. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 4:30 AM: (still dark) emptied the dishwasher and did my daily make the kitchen spotless ritual. After stretching, I left for swimming at 5:15.
  • 5:55 AM: (still dark) Jumped into the outdoor pool (quite warm – almost 80 degrees), and swam 3,000 yards with other Masters Swimming crazy people. Took a hot shower afterwards, outside in the cold and wind. The swimming felt great, the shower hurt.
  • 6:57 AM: Sunrise.
  • 9:00 AM: Shopped for ingredients for soups for dinners this week, as there’s nothing like soup when it’s darker and colder, This week I’m making Tomato Bread Soup, Split Pea Soup, and Won Ton Soup. Combine that with some brown Irish Soda Bread, and you are thriving in the darkness!
  • 11:00 AM: Made a lunch of Won Ton Soup that will soon make its way to principalchef.com.
  • 1:00 PM: Epic Nap
  • 4:30 PM: Sunset walk on the beach with Jill. Singing to myself the rest of that Sam Cooke song, “And I do know that I love you. And I know that if you love me too, what a wonderful world this would be.”
  • 4:51 PM: Sunset in Malibu – As you can see from the picture above, it was windy and cold, but pretty spectacular!
  • 5:30 PM: Impromptu drinks with friends at the beach, hearing the sounds of a nearby solstice wedding as the shortest day’s light faded.
  • 6:00 PM: Darkness falls, and we get to see Venus, Jupiter, and, following the 23.4-degree tilt of our planet, we see Polaris, heading home knowing where to find pretty true north.

That’s a pretty good day!

These dark days bring opportunities for reflection and celebration. We have enjoyed Hanukkah celebrations with friends, masked or virtual birthday celebrations with two family members, and we look forward to Christmas celebrations, all virtual this year, with family. Our current plan for New Year’s Eve is to test ourselves for COVID (damn you, Omicron!) then join a few similarly tested, double-vaccinated, and boostered friends for an outdoor New Year’s Eve gathering. And against my wishes, this group will tilt a glass at midnight Pacific time, though I would much prefer celebrating when the ball drops in Times Square, or even Nova Scotia. But to bed after that, as I have a 6,000-yard date with my crazy masters swimming friends at 10:00 AM on New Year’s Day!

As we celebrate in the darkness, I wish all of you the happiest (and safest) of holidays in this wonderful world, and I look forward to sharing thoughts with all of you in the lengthening days of 2022.


Photo by NASA/Space Place