- Longest day of the year! Druid festivities! In northern temperate climates, summer solstice makes sun worshippers of everyone. Of course, high sun itself is rarely pictured _ a boring brilliant spot of yellow high overhead. For those shots we must rely on specialized equipment, NASA, space telescopes and expensive filters.
- There will be innumerable spectacular pictures of sunsets, fewer of sunrise (takes an early bird indeed to capture sunrise at this time of year!) But few if any of the prime disk in all its glory. I’ve been taught since toddlehood that to stare up at noonday will blind me. Even sketchy instructions on a digital camera warn of burning out sensing arrays by pointing directly at our solar powerhouse. Besides, almost anything is much more interesting than the source itself _ that’s like taking a photography of a light bulb. How quickly my silly mind can denigrate the most critical element in our lives. All it does is illuminate and warm everything, without it there would be nothing.
Too obvious to worship
- Honeysuckle in full bloom is as beautiful as any other flower, but also stuns those passing by with a blast of unexpected strong sweet perfume. The olfactory shock encountered when entering a cloud of fragrance from less obvious privet hedge or linden trees is even greater. Of course, few experience such glorious surprise anymore _ the ambient temperature is over 72, so they generally rush past in hermetically-sealed air-conditioned obliviousness. On the positive side, they never catch the occasional whiff from rotting garbage or low tide mud flats.
- I recently read some woman explaining how liberating it was to go to an expensive spiritual retreat and stare at a single flower blossom for an hour. I fortunately find it equally (and less costly) spiritually satisfying to sit on a sandy beach viewing sparkling waves and hazy far shore, or to lounge in my back yard watching clouds, leaves, and birds, as time drifts by. Detaching from our annoyingly intrusive world is difficult but rewarding, and well worth any effort to accomplish.
Happily under the blazing sun, we drifted off to shared memories about supposedly simpler wonderful days gone by.
- Local schools are finishing up their year. This weekend, commencement parties commence. Cars will line streets, late night booming music, laughter, and yells, young bellies full of beer and god knows what else, sexual rites _ or at least sexual rites dreamed of. Followed the next day by prost
rate sun worship on the beach, weather permitting. We pray for no human sacrifice, but automobile carnage after midnight on twisting roads will probably appease the dark gods. Our culture’s exact analogue of ancient solar festivals.
- We are not so far removed from stone age Druids as we may like to believe. Every day we encounter irrationality and superstition, in everyone else of course, but also in our own urges and thoughts. Most of it is harmless enough, and a big part of what makes us interestingly human and not merely wet logical intelligence. I envy those young folks their enchanted and fearsome realm, but I dread the nasty sorcerous and disastrously righteous politician/priests into which some of them may grow.
- Apparently our universe, filled with explosions and emptiness, began almost 14 billion years ago. The sun only about 5 billion, almost contemporaneous with the Earth itself. Primitive life more than 3 billion back. Then evolution, rush, us.
- During all that time, the noisy racket all around did not much affect this ball of rock. Only a mere infinitesimal flicker of the Sun’s immense ongoing power reached it, and much of that was deflected by magnetic shield, or reflected by high atmosphere.
- In other words, the universe has wasted a hell of a lot of energy and time if you and I are supposed to be the outcome. Not an efficient effort at all.
- Most of the energy we use is in some way solar-based _ photoelectric, hydropower, wind, fossil fuel compressions of ancient biomass, new biomass. Only nuclear, geothermal (also nuclear), and tidal are not in some way related to the sun’s output. And most of our energy conversions to electricity are horribly inefficient, passing through a mechanical generator stage to do the work.
- But should we care? We are not using energy efficiently, but even the solar power we do utilize is hardly an efficient capture of the full output of that reactor. Life hardly uses all its solar-based energy efficiently _ at least for individuals, although a case can be made that the entire biosphere and Gaia itself is about as efficient as possible.
- Efficiency has never been the measure of our relation to the sun. We accept its gifts gratefully, except when they become extreme. More efficient delivery of its output would instantly burn us to a crisp. A slight reduction would starve and freeze us. What we mostly get from our sun _ and what we probably should aim for in the rest of our complicated systems _ is not efficiency, but absolute stability over long periods. That is probably something worth praying for.
- Long days, short nights, bright light, warm afternoons, carpets of flowers exploding, greenery in glorious control of every vista _ a perfect time, filled with daily happiness and hope. Yet already the sun sets a little sooner, some plants have begun to hibernate waiting for the next spring season, and insects start to have their way chewing through the feast spread around. The cycle back to cold and dark has begun, even if it is easy to ignore, impossible to remember.
- Hard not to compare it to political and social events of the day. We like to believe we have escaped cycles, that the future will be filled with ever more glorious wonders of science and ingenuity. Yet many civilizations have felt the same, not least that of the industrialized nations in 1913. Unlike the classic Newtonian majesty of solar astronomical events, human affairs are unpredictable, harsh and often catastrophic. Unlike the billions of years adjustments of the biosphere taking solar rhythms into account, we have only our day of which to be certain _ I may not exist in another year, our culture may crumble. The biosphere has little imagination _ but imagination may end up being the Achilles heel of our entire species.