Solar “Sleep In” Time at the Aerie

When my sunrise happens later than the people in the valley.

I’ve been home from my vacation for two days now — just in time to notice the start of what I think of as the sun’s “sleep in” period. Let me explain.

My home sits on a shelf overlooking the Wenatchee Valley. The valley is to the north. To the south is a 1000+ foot basalt cliff carved out by ice age floods. My home, in fact, sits on silt and rock deposits left behind from those floods. (The geology is fascinating here.)

As anyone who paid attention to basic astronomy in science class knows, the sun rises and sets at a slightly different part of the horizon every day. From the winter solstice in mid December to the summer solstice in mid June, the sun rises and sets a little farther north every day. From the summer solstice to the winter solstice it sets a little farther south every day. The equinoxes — in March and September — are when the sun rises and sets due east and west respectively. Ancient people knew all this stuff — probably better than today’s Americans — and created structures to track it, like Stonehenge and various Mayan observatories such as El Caracol in Chichen Itza.

Throughout August, the sun has been rising a bit more to the south (right) on my horizon every day. A slope up to the cliffs lies due east of my home. On a specific day in August, the sun starts rising behind that slope. Because it has to clear the slope (and eventually the cliffs) before I can see it, sunrise to me happens later than people who aren’t quite as close to the slope or the cliff.

For lack of a better way to describe this, I say that the sun is “sleeping in” or just rising later than it should be.

Since I moved here full time back in 2013, I’ve been trying to make observations about the sun’s movement as it relates to my home. Every once in a while, I witness a key event. For example, around the first of December is when the sun rises so far south that it never quite clears the cliffs to the south of my home. Starting on that date and ending about six weeks later is what I’ve come to call the “shadow time“; I get no sunrise at all and live in the shadow of the cliff. (If you think that’s bad, it’s a lot worse for my neighbors on the south side of the road — they don’t get any direct sun for months.) Since I spend much of my winter traveling, it doesn’t really affect me.

Yesterday, August 26, is when I noticed that the sun rose right where the flat horizon met the hills at the base of the cliff. I put it on my calendar as a recurring event called “Sunrise Corner” — when the sun rises in this “corner” of the horizon. This morning, I snapped a picture right before sunrise to illustrate it.

My Sunrise Corner
The sun now rises where the flat horizon meets the base of the cliffs behind my home. From now through December, the sun will have to clear the cliffs before it “rises” for me — hence, it’s “sleeping in.”

I should mention here that even though I’m not seeing the sun at the reported moment of sunrise, people down in the valley might be. I’ll look down and see the valley bathed in sunlight, with deep shadows cast by the cliffs and other hillsides delay sunrise for others. Even during my six weeks of “shadow time,” the valley gets sunshine and it’s bright outside. It’s all relative.

There is a benefit to the delayed sunrise and the steady movement of the sun to the south. My desk currently sits at an east-northeast-facing window. When the sun rises farther to the north, on the flat horizon, it shines right into the side of my face when I’m trying to work. I’m going to permanently solve that problem by moving my desk up to my loft. (I’ll have a lot fewer distractions up there, too.) But until then, I have to rely on sun shades if I can’t wait until later in the day to get desk work done.

I think that’s one of the things I like most about where I live now: nature is more a part of my life. I can see it and notice it. It’s impossible not to. And then I can reflect on how it affects me and the things I do.

For example, the front of my house faces mostly east. That means you’ll never see me mow my lawn during the hot summer months between sunrise and about 4 PM when my lawn is in the shade of my home. Likewise, you won’t find me lounging on the sofa in my bedroom beside that west-facing window on a summer afternoon — although it’s quite pleasant on a winter afternoon.

As the sun rises later and later in the morning — especially here at the Aerie — I’ll enjoy the extra cool morning time to get things done on the east side of my home.

When will the sun be at the corner again? That’s actually pretty easy to calculate. Figure the number of days between yesterday and the winter solstice: about 117. Now add that to the winter solstice date and you get April 17, 2018. It should be within a day or two of that. I’ll see if I can remember to check in April.

4 thoughts on “Solar “Sleep In” Time at the Aerie

  1. Interesting observations.
    My home plot, if it was a tiny runway, would be oriented 22/04 (approximately the ‘solar’ reverse of yours).
    I live 52 degrees north, close to the Greenwich meridian.
    As I write this (18.20 BST), I can look southwest to see my wife, working in the dark shadow of tall trees, dead heading the flowers in the front bed nearest the stream (dry now).
    Looking northeast (from the same chair) I see our dog basking in bright sunshine on the back lawn. As autumn comes the shadows from the trees will extend across the whole garden. By mid November all the deciduous leaves will be gone and the tall tree ‘skeletons’ will no longer obstruct the winter light from either garden. But the sun will retreat by 15.30 on the 22nd of December.

    I am fascinated by this slow choreography of shadow/light, warmth and cold. For this reason, I could never live on the equator (or in the tropics) as the seasons are a poor imitation of the powerful drama we enjoy both further north and south.
    I think Robert Browning caught all this perfectly in his poem “home thoughts from abroad”.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one who observes this kind of stuff. I’ve noticed that many people are completely out of touch with the world around them. I had one friend who didn’t understand why the moon had phases and another (who should have known better) who argued that there’s no relationship between sunrise/moonset time and sunset/moonrise time and the phase of the moon. (The full moon always rises within an hour of sunset, no matter what time sunset is. That’s because the moon and sun are on opposite sides of Earth.)

      Like you, I always thought that living at the equator would be boring, at least as far as the sun goes. But I’m willing to live with it. ;-)

  2. Up where I live the difference between living in the shaded versus un-shaded part of the terrain is very pronounced, both due to the northern latitude and the very steep terrain. Most of the building-friendly land is squeezed into the thin strip between the ocean and the coastal mountain ranges, and much of that is either wetlands or tidal flats. Since we live on the shady side we have a shorter growing season, as the “direct sunlight season” starts later and ends earlier. The gardens get started about a month earlier on the “sunny side”, and you can grow heat loving plants like sunflowers far more reliably. On the negative side the early start means that a late frost is far more likely to kill your flowering shrubs and bulbs, the “shady side” plants typically escape that fate since they bud out much later. There are many days when we look across the channel to see the sunshine shining on the far side while never getting any ourselves, which can be a bit depressing. The further north in latitude you go the more pronounced the seasonal difference becomes as regards the short days/long nights of winter versus short nights/long days of summer. The reverse is apparently true in the southern hemisphere, but so far I haven’t been able to experience that directly. If I had the resources I’d love to have a place to live on both sides of the equator so I could pick and choose my season like the migrating birds do, or just emulate the humpback whales and decamp to Hawaii for the winter. :)

    • Juneau, your home town, is a great place with dramatic views and remarkably friendly people, given the cruise-ship invasions.

      We once went to Mt. Cook on the south island of New Zealand. It is about 43 degrees south. It’s a wonderful place, far more sheep than people, clear air and a whole new set of stars at night. The quiet roads are lined with Russell lupins, at least in their summer (December). We paid a bit extra for a helicopter landing on the glacier, just as we had done in Skagway, up your way.
      Now, the guy who flew us up mount Cook had also flown helicopters for Temsco in both Juneau and Skagway. I’m guessing that you know many of those pilots.

      This particular pilot had two summers each year. He flew the far north from April to August and moved to the Southern Hemisphere for late October to February. He treated the rest of the year as holiday. Not a bad commute?

What do you think?