Thursday, March 20, 2003

The vernal blog.

An early post. Tonight is the big commercial real estate event of the year, the Chicago Food Depository Awards Dinner, more about which tomorrow if anything interesting happens.

Today I got a message from a regular e-mail correspondent of mine today, Peter M, who reminded me (inadvertently) that it’s time to rant about “the first day of spring.”

At the end of his message, Peter said: “The sun crosses the equator over to ‘our side’ at 7 p.m. sharp tonight! It's all over for Saddam AND the southern hemisphere!!”

Of course, it’s the vernal equinox. I almost forgot, even though my DayMinder Brand desk calendar reminds me that tomorrow “Spring Begins.” This calendar is a product of Mead Consumer & Office Products, HQ’d in New York state. Late in 2001, I wrote them this letter:

“To Whom It May Concern:

“Today I received my 2002 DayMinder Brand Monthly Planner, and I want to compliment your company on producing this useful tool. I have used one for many years, and the advent of Palm Pilots and the like will not change that.

“However, I noticed that in your new calendar you’ve omitted Australian, New Zealand and Irish holidays. Perhaps your markets are not very large in those countries, but still I believe all holidays of the English-speaking world should be included in this calendar. The addition of Mexican holidays is nice, but it shouldn’t come at the expense of the other countries.

“Also, better “Winter Solstice,” “Spring Equinox,” etc. than “Winter Begins,” “Spring Begins,” etc. The seasons do not begin the same day everywhere, even in North America — that just seems like a calendar fiction to me.”

I received a very polite reply shortly thereafter, essentially telling me that my opinions were duly noted, etc. The letter also mentioned that Mead’s market for these calendars was much larger in Mexico than the Antipodes, and I’m sure that’s true. But I still believe that Australia et al. are getting short shrift. (So I penciled in Australia Day — January 26 — and Anzac Day — April 25 — which I could remember, but was too lazy to look up any others.)

About my comment on the equinoxes and solstices, Mead said nothing. Among other things, I suspect that they didn’t want to confess that they think the words “equinox” and especially “solstice” are just too hard for many calendar users. Talk about pernicious dumbing down.

My question is, what is it about the vernal equinox that makes it “the first day of spring?” Occasionally I pose this question to someone, and sometimes the answer I get is, “It’s officially the first day of spring.” If I’m in a Jesuit mood, I’ll reply to that with this question: “Which office decided that?”

I don’t believe I’ve actually changed anyone’s mind, of course, since I’m questioning a received idea. Also, it might be considered too unimportant to bother thinking about much. But I’m not so sure. What we call our days seems reasonably important to me.

I also think that “the first day of spring” is absurd because it flies in the face of experience — experience anyone can have, just by going outside an assessing the climate. In my case, that of northern Illinois. Air warm yet? Not really. Grass green yet? Nope. Flowers? Naah. Any buds on the trees? No, they know better than that. Is this spring? Sure it is, the calendar says so.


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