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.
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.