Spring Forward

March 13, 2011

Participating in the blogosphere creates an enormous sense of personal entitlement. Any minor annoyance is fair game for complaint, and no complaint is too insignificant to warrant narrowcasting it throughout cyberspace. Irked by speed bumps? Channel that rant and make common cause with 10,237 other people who will Google “speed bump” over the next 24 hours. Feeling dissed by the frump with dandruff flaked shoulders sitting across from you on the bus? By all means, blog away! Cheesed by the way words like “blogosphere” “narrowcasting” and “cyberspace” make it into word processor dictionaries well before “sustainability” “ecotone” or “locavore”? Now there’s something worth launching a major on-line stink about!

Actually, we don’t have a major problem with speed bumps here in mid-Michigan. That role is played by a more organic phenomenon known as the pothole. Although I’m sure there are plenty of blogs about potholes, the subject also rises to a level of civic importance that extends beyond that of idiosyncratic personal aggravation. They are viewed as a genuine hazard, leading to camaraderie among those who helpfully point out where the most recent and most lethal examples are to be found. And there’s also this sense that the existence of potholes is an injustice of significant proportion, evidence of corrupt morals and lassitude amongst our government officials. So potholes actually turn out to be an important source of community identity and political solidarity for us Michiganders, much more efficacious than ideals like combating hunger or poverty, and this makes them inappropriate topics for a mere whine.

And today, I’m in the mood to whine.

Oh, sure, I’ve become one of those “early to bed, early to rise” types in my advancing years, rarely making it to Letterman or Saturday Night Live and almost never able to catch any rest once full dawn has shattered the restful aura of my bedroom. Somehow the other half of Franklin’s nostrum (healthy, wealthy, wise) continues to elude me. It’s my farm roots I must say (yuk, yuk) that have made me so sensitive to sunup. Up with the chickens, they used to say about rural folk. Call me “Farm Boy Paul”. Make hay while the sun shines. Wouldn’t want to waste any of that precious daylight with all those farm chores awaiting. And that chicken thing was pointing to a simple fact: The chickens are up at the crack of dawn. Anyone who lives in a “backyard chickens” district where they have not outlawed roosters is probably aware of this.

But perhaps you notice a slight disequilibrium, a minor but telling shift in grammar that reveals a certain disingenuousness in my claim to the ways of farm life. The chickens, it seems, attend the very crack of dawn—that magnificent moment when the first hint of light breaks across the horizon. There are probably more than a few folks out there who have not noticed that there is a significant interval between that moment and that of the sun actually making its way above the horizon, a second moment also eerily like that of flipping the light switch when we have full dawn. I sometimes wonder if my children are among those blissfully ignorant of this phenomenon, but I’m sure that if they have not gotten up to track the transit from first rays to full sun, they have certainly stayed up to see it.

Unlike a real farmer, I am a sun-fully-up-above-the-horizon kind of guy. I’m sure to hit the floor with a few minutes of full dawn, heading to my shower and thinking about that morning coffee all the way. But no, I’m not up with the chickens. And that’s what bugs me about this weekend, because being too far west in the Eastern Time Zone, the shift from EST to EDT puts full dawn all the way back to around quarter to eight. I’m used to the idea that I have to drag myself out of bed before dawn from December through most of February, but just when we get to that point when I could start to let my body cycle with the sun, the damn government has decided to push the clock up an hour. This setback means that it will now be another four to six weeks before I can get up with sun, (or pretend that I am getting up with the farmers).

And that’s a real speed bump.

Paul B. Thompson is the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics at Michigan State University


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