They speak of the dog days of Augustas though that were somehow lugubrious, but to me the last half of autumn is the dreariest of the year. And I don’t know how you felt, but this fall of 2020 was about as dreary as I can remember. We may have had record heat in July but August was nothing to write home about, and September felt more like October, October like November.
But then we had that miraculous Indian Summer last week and dreary November became a paradox. This blog post, drafted before the freaky week, has made me pause and look to revisions before finally sending. ‘Luckily’, gray days and frosty nights returned, even accompanied by tepid snowflakes, offering dramatic foreshadowing of the coming winter blasts.
Despite the blessing that uncharacteristically warm sunny week offered us, and especially the restaurant industry, the long range forecast still calls for dark. And with the shortening of daylight, and the prospect of yet more shortening in the remaining weeks of the fall season we speculate on darkening of mood in response to the dark days of November and December. And these shorter days of fall are made worse by the empty remedy proffered by the resumption of Standard Time, eschewing the summertime benefits of Daylight Saving Time. Some people might say the arbitrary shift from Daylight Saving Timeto Standard Time merely exacerbates an already deteriorating situation. (Please note, no ‘s’ on Saving! I realize it’s annoying to have this common trivial inaccuracy pointed out but, after all, my aim is to educate as well as entertain.)
The predominant human cultural experience is that of those in the Northern Hemisphere, and especially Western/European influences, although I suspect even China, another northern hemisphere society, has similarly been influenced by our planetary attitude towards the sun. It’s hard not to notice the lengthening of days in summer and the shortening of days in winter as Earth completes its circumnavigation of the sun. And not just the Greeks – who gave us the names of constellations, stars and planets – but even the Urians, and the ancients who built Stonehenge.
I reflect on how agrarian pagans must have felt, with increasing dread, as they watched in apprehension (fear, not awareness) at the shortening of the days and worried that the sun would not come back to warm them again from eternal night.
But the shortening of days reaches its nadir on December 21 (at least, on the Gregorian Calendar), and things begin looking up, though it takes many more weeks before we really notice, or believe it. (That’s what is so special about Groundhog Day!) It’s not for nothing that many societies and religions had a special set of beliefs and rituals about the ending of one year and the beginning of a new year.
It’s obvious, if you have shed the scales, that it is not an accident that we celebrate the birth Jesus Christ, the Saviour, on the 25thof December.
In any event, societies came to invent rituals and celebrations to reinforce a sense of hopefulness, to help get themselves through the dark days of winter. (These ancients gave little thought to southerners now enjoying the bright days of summer. And why would they if the earth was flat?) You’d think the ancients would take note of the habits of birds, but then, birds were more mobile than humans. Modern snowbirds have cottoned on to the idea.
So the ancients had largely figured out the calendar, and what causes it; they had invented months and seasons and days of the week and even had names for them, mostly after Roman gods and rulers, and the occasional Norse, depending on whether you spoke English or French. Those educated ancients had become pretty confident that the sun would return each summer to its former glory, despite the annual setbacks. Maybe it was merely a matter of placating the gods and having belief, but it became increasingly more likely it was physics we had to thank, and its prophets, especially Copernicus and Galileo, though even there, who invented the physics???
But surely I digress. This post is supposed to be about November dreariness, and hopefulness as its remedy. Quite so, but we needed to get some of the pre-requisite stuff out of the way first – to entertain, possibly to educate.
I personally don’t suffer from SAD, thank goodness; clinical depression is a serious disease and those who suffer from it don’t need to be reminded that it is normal in northern latitudes to reflexively eat more, put on weight, and sleep in. It may be normal but it doesn’t help somebody in real psychological pain, too distressed to leave the house or even get out of bed. Our instinctive response may be hibernation but the real solution is more sunlight, and vitamin D.
I don’t even have a problem with Standard Time. I have a problem with the switching back and forth. And especially the ‘fall back’ switch in the Fall. November is dreary enough with shorter days and the pending doom of winter blasts and deadly cold (not to mention rising heating costs), but the shock of moving our clocks forward and back just accentuates things. I may not have SAD but I definitely have a setback in the first week after the falling back of the clocks. (This year’s little November aberration was a welcome respite from the Standard Time blues.) I don’t know what’s worse, rising at 6:30 am in the dark, or waking up November 1 to the dawn’s earlier light only to realize we’ve been robbed of daylight by 5:00 pm. I suppose if I were a farmer, or a bird, it wouldn’t matter one way of the other. I’d be up with the sun, do the chores, and retire at sundown. I suppose when sundown comes at 4:30 (Standard Time) and little else to do in the days before YouTubes, you went to bed. Is it any wonder more babies are born in August than any other month?
Which brings me to hopefulness, finally. What can be more hopeful than a few minutes of bliss in the dark days of November, to be followed by signs of renewal in the spring, and a new farm helper in August.
Makes me think Jesus might have actually been born in August than December but that might be a bit too irreverent, even for me.
I have more to say about hopefulness, but as this post is already too long, I’ll leave that for next time.
Doug Jordan, reporting to you from Kanata Ontario
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I’m pretty sure few people know why they are called the dog days – is it because by August people are growing weary of the endless summer heat, and like lazy hounds on a Mississippi riverbank, just want to sleep our days away? That’s what I used to imagine but it turns out it’s because the constellation Canis Major, the large dog, and its principal star, (the dog star) Sirius is prominent in august (in the Northern Hemisphere) and to the ancient Greeks and Romans portended heat drought, disease and lethargy. I guess I had it half right.
For more on DST please take a gander at my previous post, The End Of Days. It’s not apocalyptic, it’s upbeat, as well as educational!
I wonder if this is what Dylan Thomas had in mind when he wrote his famous line, ‘rage, rage, against the dying of the light’, but I doubt it.