Of darkness and light

After having tolerated the required ritual of setting the clocks back every fall for the past however-many decades, you’d think I would be prepared for the end of daylight savings time. As the dreaded Sunday approaches, I prepare myself mentally.

ME (in a semi-convincing, soothing tone): Don’t worry! You’ll get used to it. Plus, you get an extra hour of sleep!

OTHER ME (snarling): Yes, but only on this one night, and that’s just not worth the tradeoff. You know it’s true.

ME (grasping): Oh, come on, but it’ll be light in the morning, and you know that makes it easier to wake up, right?

OTHER ME (going in for the kill): Sure, for a couple of weeks, then it’s dark when I wake up, too.

On and on goes my inner monologue. I do savor the extra hour of sleep (who doesn’t?), but that first Sunday afternoon of Eastern Standard Time drags, and just as I’m noticing the sun is setting in a totally different location off my back porch than it does in the summer, it quickly drops below the horizon, flipping off the lights on its way down. I find myself looking repeatedly at the clock starting around 5:00pm, wondering if it’s too early to go to bed. I mean, what’s the difference? The day is basically over, right?

After an endless evening, bedtime finally – mercifully – comes. I tuck in at a reasonable hour, congratulating myself for surviving the first short day. As the sun rises the next morning, so do I, and each morning after that for a couple of weeks, at first appreciating the early sunlight, then cursing it for accenting the streaks and smears on the inside of my windshield. But soon enough, both ends of my waking day lack daylight.

The darkness begins ever earlier each evening, which means commuting home from work in what would feel like the dead of night were it not for my fellow commuters, all of us vaguely disoriented by this shift in our routine. And thus it’s been since November 6 – one month ago. I keep thinking I’ll get used to the new daily rhythm, but I noticed last night that I was watching the clock again, waiting for it to strike ten so I could go to bed without admitting defeat.

You wouldn’t think the adjustment of the clock by one hour would make such a difference, but it does. I try not to wish my days away, because each one really is a gift, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t counting down to the winter solstice. Just before my alarm rings on Wednesday, December 21, we will cross the point at which we gain a minute or two of precious daylight each day. I’ll put my head down and charge into the new year, only to suffer through January’s many insults. And don't get me started on February (that bitch). At some point, though, I’ll notice it: It isn’t totally dark when I leave the office. And hey – the sun is right in my eyes during my commute again! These are signs of new life, of renewed hope. Can Springtime be far behind?

Until then, I’ll stubbornly use incandescent bulbs inside my house of the highest wattage I’m able to purchase. Damn the Light Bulb Police! I don’t care that they hog energy; I’ll pay for the extra burn in exchange for their warm, glowing light. Also, it’s fireplace season, and we have wood to spare, begging to be burned. And burn it we shall, and we will savor the warmth and light that only a fireplace in December can put forth.

It’s *only* 9:30pm as I finish this post. I’d crawl into bed except that I still need to do the dinner dishes and retrieve some clothes from the dryer. Those activities will distract me until a proper bedtime, and tomorrow I will begin again the cruel countdown to the solstice, at which point we are offered hope, and the promise of longer, brighter days in our near future.

First snow dec 2009 013





Sergio’s baby bird

I attended a three-day training session last week at a DC-area hotel. Our meals were served in the dining room of the facility’s soaring, sunny atrium. As I ate lunch there the first day, I heard birds chirping and thought perhaps the hotel piped in sound effects to make the atrium feel more like outdoors. But then I noticed two little birds hopping along on the floor, presumably trapped inside the atrium. They didn’t seem to be suffering; in fact, I’m pretty sure they felt like they’d somehow hit the bird jackpot.

As I sat there watching the birds the banquet manager came over and asked if I’d like for him to bring me dessert. I declined. Then I gestured to the nearby birds and made some remark about them to him.

His name tag identified him as Sergio, and he responded to my observation by enthusiastically sharing this about himself:

Baby cardinalSeveral weeks ago, Sergio rescued a baby bird from outside his home, apparently abandoned by its mother. It was, he determined, a baby cardinal. Sergio told me that he looked up how to make baby bird food (the process features turning worms into a baby food-like puree and administering it through a syringe).

Sergio then told me how the bird likes to sit on his knee when he’s watching TV, and hops up onto his shoulder, nestles in tight and falls asleep. When he transfers it back to the heated box he prepared for it, it cries for him, and he relents and holds it some more. The bird, he thinks, seems to like him. And he knows the bird now depends upon him.

His eyes twinkled as he talked about his new “pet.” I asked if he had kids, and he replied, “No, no,” then he pulled out his iPhone and proudly showed me photos of his baby bird, as a proud parent or grandparent might.

He said, in my country, I did a lot with animals. I couldn’t understand him completely, but I gathered that in Mexico he cared for animals and loved it very much.

I asked Sergio what he was going to do with the bird. He said, he’s afraid to return it to nature because he has been in the house for so long, and it might not be able to survive. In fact, on days when he works a long shift, Sergio has been bringing the bird along with him and leaving it in his car and going out several times to check on him and feed him.

I asked if he’d named the bird yet. Sergio said no, because I don’t yet know if it’s a boy or a girl. I said, perhaps something gender-neutral, such as Pat or Chris? He laughed and said, perhaps.

I was charmed by Sergio’s story and his genuine enthusiasm for his rescue project. And now whenever I see a baby bird, I will remember him, and remind myself that sometimes, strangers have the most interesting things to share, if only you engage them and listen.