A civil twilight


by Frances Edstrom

The first light of day coming through my windows, the birds awakening and their hullabaloo in the trees along my boulevard, the sounds of the neighborhood gradually stirring, the light through the leaves and curtains, the working world sounds from the streets and lawns, and at the end of the day, the gradual diminishment of light and sound "” those were my outdoor world for many days of being confined to bed. As I gradually became more mobile, I realize now, most of my attention was riveted on the surface upon which I was placing my crutches or wheeling my wheelchair. Did I see safety or obstacle or danger?

Now I am driving, and walking with a cane. My world is expanding. I envision the past months as the lens of a camera gradually opening to admit light and expand my view.

I can look up finally, without fear that I will make a misstep. I realized this past week that I have gotten through the darkening days of autumn leading to the Winter Solstice without my usual grumbling and unhappiness at the loss of light, so concentrated was my attention on my next step to the disregard of the wider atmosphere.

This morning was foggy and dreary, the temperature in the forties. It reminded me of our year in Seattle, where we longed to see the world on a sunny day, even if it meant zero temperatures. Oh, it was depressing then! But the passage of years, and life experiences that have taught me about real depression and the fragility of life and happiness have given me a new appreciation for days without sunshine. Even without the sun, one day leads to another. Dreary days offer their own joys "” the warmth of a cup of coffee, the cozy sight of lights from neighbors' homes, the opportunity to not cut the grass or shovel the walk, but instead enjoy a moment of rest and contemplation or conversation and closeness with family.

Realizing that the Winter Solstice approached, when the sunlight would gradually increase in our lives, I was searching for the times of sunrise and sunset from today until it begins on December 21.

I found them on the U.S. Naval Observatory website, and also found a new phrase, at least in my experience. Today, December 13, the sun will rise at 7:33 a.m. and set at 4:29 p.m. On December 21, sunrise is at 7:38 and sunset at 4:31. It's not until December 26 that the lightening begins with one more minute of sunlight.

But wait! Life isn't all black and white, darkness and light. There's twilight! Of course I've heard of twilight, but the Navy calls it "civil twilight" which they define to "begin in the morning, and to end in the evening when the center of the Sun is geometrically 6 degrees below the horizon. This is the limit at which twilight illumination is sufficient, under good weather conditions, for terrestrial objects to be clearly distinguished; at the beginning of morning civil twilight, or end of evening civil twilight, the horizon is clearly defined and the brightest stars are visible under good atmospheric conditions in the absence of moonlight or other illumination. In the morning before the beginning of civil twilight and in the evening after the end of civil twilight, artificial illumination is normally required to carry on ordinary outdoor activities. Complete darkness, however, ends sometime prior to the beginning of morning civil twilight and begins sometime after the end of evening civil twilight.

"Sunrise and sunset conventionally refer to the times when the upper edge of the disk of the Sun is on the horizon, considered unobstructed relative to the location of interest. Atmospheric conditions are assumed to be average, and the location is in a level region on the Earth's surface."

What a nice phrase "civil twilight" is, and how civil of the sun to say a long goodbye, to give us a chance to get home, light the lights, set the fire. It makes me think that Mother Nature is much less ruthless than I had supposed.

Civil twilight. And just think, there's moonlight, too.


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