"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Here Comes the Sun

When you are raised seeing sunrises and sunsets, some of us come to rely on them in keeping balance.  It is not something you really think about but it impacts your sense of connection with your surroundings.  Husband and I are both wired that way.   

Oklahoma City is still a baby city and is laid out primarily on a grid.  Most of the streets are east/west and north/south.  Although the city is split by the river, residential neighborhoods aren't near it and the city architects managed to keep the street grid primarily intact.  It is very hard to get lost in Oklahoma City.  Even if you make a wrong turn, the sun usually helps you to figure out that you're going west instead of south (who needs a GPS?). 

When we lived back east, the roads twisted and cut off, changed names, stopped dead at rivers and the sun, if not hidden by a canopy of trees, frequently cast odd shadows due to haze in the air and the foliage. 
There were plenty of bright, clear days, I don't want to say there weren't, but between the trees, the hills, the haze and the twisted roads, it was harder to simply look about and know what direction you were facing.  Moreover, even if you knew, that didn't mean you had a clue on how to get where you were going.  It was disconcerting and for someone used to knowing, at all times, pretty much exactly where I was in relation to everything around me in a fifteen mile area, a bit unsettling.

If my kids are reading this, they will probably recall the time I accidentally drove to Ada but that was just a fluke.  And so was the time I nearly made it to Topeka when I was driving to Denver.  That Kansas is treacherous. 
These are some photos of a small nature quilt I am making for a friend.  I can only show bits and pieces of it because she hasn't seen it, yet. 
For twenty years, while raising my kids, we lived in a house that faced east.  I knew exactly what direction I was facing.  After my marriage broke up, I lived for a couple of years in a house that faced north.  Again, no problem knowing exactly where I sat, direction-wise.  And never thought twice about it.  

When I remarried, I moved to Northern Virginia with its beautiful forests and rivers.  We lived in a house that faced, of all directions, northwest.  Now, that was weird.  I found myself frequently trying to figure out directions, even as  I stood in the den.  It had a large window that looked out over a hill so it didn't bother me all that much.  I could still see out.  But it was disconcerting enough that I would actually get out the road map from time to time and look at it.  Not to find my way to anywhere but just to reconfirm what direction I was facing at a given time. 

In 2003, we moved to a different house, south of Washington DC in a neighborhood I loved full of gorgeous trees and genuinely terrific neighbors.  As a kid, I always wanted a multi-story house and we got one - complete with a walkout unfinished basement that the girls used as their own private den when we weren't home (I miss our dog door).  The problem was that it was tilted towards the southwest.  I think.  See, to this day, I STILL am turned around in that house.  I literally set up a compass on the window above the sink to try to figure out what direction I was facing. 

Feeling so catywampas, I couldn't mentally track the direction storms and winds were coming with any efficiency.  The shadows and the sun seemed "strange."  I have always enjoyed watching sunrises and would sit out on the deck to do that but between the trees obscuring the first few minutes near the horizon, and the path of the sun sometimes blocked by a neighbor's house, well, it just never felt right.  In the evening, I would stand out in the driveway and try to see the sunset.  It always felt like it was on the "wrong" side of the house.  I would face directly towards it and wonder if I was facing Oklahoma (I probably was, during certain times of the year).   If someone hadn't been raised on sunrises, I doubt they would even notice.  But it constantly threw me off.  I am not suggesting I got lost in the closet (or even on the streets) or anything.  But it was just kind of like being in one of those carnival fun houses where it looks like furniture is on the ceiling and the walls aren't level. 

It's not just Virginia, of course.  When I visited my best friend up on her ranch a couple of weeks ago, I found myself feeling less grounded because her house, although it sits on a largely treeless hill, faces the southwest.  I think.  It messed me up.  She mentioned that she and her boyfriend can't ever agree on what direction things are so maybe I'm not the only one who gets confused by such things.  

Our Oklahoma home faces the west, which means you can see the sunrise directly out the back door towards the east.  Our backyard patio faces the pasture, which gently slopes down a long hill so we see the sky with the neighbors' trees near the horizon.  You can still see the sunrise, particularly when the leaves drop.

Husband and I arrived back home in Oklahoma last December, just before the Winter solstice - the shortest day of the year.  The old Celts referred to it as Yule, and I try to celebrate Yule in addition to Christmas.  It was important to me to get home by that day. 

On Yule, the sun rises just by the barn.  In other words, because of the earth's tilt, the sun seems to rise to the south.  And on the shortest day of the year, in the northern hemisphere, the sun rises further south than on any other day of the year.   After the winter solstice, the sunrise shifts towards the north a wee bit every day until it reaches the furthermost northern point on the summer solstice - the longest day of the year.     And of course, once you get past the summer solstice, the sunrises begin marching back towards the south.  It is a little like the action you used to see in the old typewriters. 

It sounds counterintuitive to think that the sun is more southern when it is cold and northern when it is warm but remember - that is in relation to us.  So when the sun seems to be towards the south and it's cold - WE are further north.  Likewise, when the sun seems to be further north - WE are further south and it is warmer. 

We've been back home to Oklahoma for three quarters of a year, now.   I watched the sunrises creep from the south, up to the north and they are headed back south, again.  In fact, the fall equinox is coming up in a few days.  The equinox is when the days and nights are the same length.  The sunrise is just about half way between the two points it hit on the solstices.  So if I were a druid, I could tell you that when the sun rises above the horizon on the left of a certain point, the days are longer than the nights.  When the sun hits the point, the days and nights are the same length.  And if the sun comes up to the right of that point, the nights are longer than the days. 

Sometimes, I think my brain is wired strange. 

Happy Quilting, Penny, Evelyn and Pearl


BilboWaggins said...

No, you're not wired strange at all (unless I am too!)

I always knew I wanted to live where I could see the sunrise - now I am blessed to be in a house that faces (roughly) south and be able to see about 20 miles of horizon. There is a deep joy in seeing the sun rise, and knowing pretty much what time it is by glancing out front and judging the light. If I want to know what the weather will be like in the next hour I look west (we are only a few miles from the coast and that's where all our weather comes from).

These are all things our ancestors did automatically, they are hard-wired into us, but in the ever-technical 21st century, people don't need to look to the sky to get information.

Florida Farm Girl said...

Penny, as much as I love the trees around my house, they do obscure the sunrises and sunsets. Since I'm not a major morning person, those don't get to me so bad as never seeing a sunset unless I'm away from the house. That bothers me. Should I be up at sunrise, it is much more open to the east so it is better, but the horizon for me is still very short.

I have a knack for geography and have navigated us successfully all over the country for years (without an electronic GPS) but for some reason, in this house, if I want to point east or west, I have to stop and think about it. I'm turned around in this house, too and it faces north squarely, so it ought to be easy.

So, yeah, I know what you mean about the discombobulated feeling you get when you don't quite know where you are.

Penny said...

It makes me feel better that you ladies "get" what I am saying. Needing to know the direction and feeling "off" in certain places is something we don't really rely on, these days, so it is discounted. I certainly discounted the value if not the intensity of the disquiet. Bilbo, thanks for pointing out that we are hardwired that way. I suppose if I thought about it, I would realize just how important that instinct was to our ancestors and realize its not been nearly long enough for that sort of hardwiring to have changed.

Anonymous said...

When we were newly married, we moved from Detroit to Kirksville, MO. so DH could go to medical school. All the natives, many were farmers, gave driving directions as N,S,E or W. As a city girl I was used to right or left. Also the town had no street signs, but everyone knew the street names. Eventually, street signs appeared.

But everyone in Detroit knows that Canada lies south of Detroit!

So I am not so savvy about the lay of my surroundings. However, our condo faces east, as the morning sun comes streaming in in a most overabundant way. Even I can tell that is east!

Great writing, as usual, Penny.