Tomorrow Came To Be
Faith, and it was a fine dawning this morning, the first of February! I emerged early from my cottage to retrieve the newspaper, and there on the bare cold ground I observed that which I had not seen for many a day: sunlight and shadow! Yes, January is past, and the sun has returned to welcome a promising new month.
Across the way I noticed my neighbor, up and stirring. I had not spoken to Phillip this whole winter. He appeared to have only just awakened. I called out a greeting, but he gave no intelligible answer, only a kind of snort.
Down the path came another old friend, Egghead the Englishman. What is the name of his university? Muddy Bank? No, Slippery Rock. (A brilliant name, that. These supposed scholars have named their college after a wet stone in the riverbed! They might just as well have called it Ox Ford.)
Egghead stopped to remark upon the weather. He informed me of the presence of a system of high pressure over us. Therefore, he predicted, we should have fair skies again on the morrow.
I was not so sanguine. At this time of year, I noted, it is rare to encounter two sunny days in a row. On the other hand, the situation is about to change. Winter is at an end and spring is on our doorstep.
Nay, said he, spring does not begin until the vernal equinox on the 22nd of March, some seven weeks from now. Says who? I demanded. Say all the books, said he.
Well, I replied, my Celtic tradition has a different opinion on the matter.
Let us perform the arithmetic. Are there not 52 weeks in a year? Therefore 13 weeks in a season? Then consider the day in the middle of a 13-week season the very day when six and a half weeks of the season have passed and six and a half weeks are yet to come. That would be the midpoint of the season, would it not?
And what is the midpoint of winter? Is it not also the shortest day of the year? Just before Christmas, the sun reaches its lowest point in the sky, which we have named the solstice. We shiver as we sing the carol written by Christina Rosetti:
Now, six weeks later, we are arrived at the beginning of February. Winter has run its course, and it is time for a new season.
No, said he, you are mistaken concerning the solstice in December. That astronomical event marks the beginning of winter, not its midpoint.
Nonsense, said I. After the solstice the days grow longer. Winter wanes away.
On the contrary, said he, winter gains strength. After the solstice the thermometer continues to drop, and the coldest day of the year falls in January.
So what, I replied. We mark the seasons by the movements of the sun, not the thermometer.
My bleary-eyed neighbor Phillip had wandered over to discover the subject of our dispute. I pressed my argument. I posed another question to Egghead.
Have you not heard, I inquired, of Midsummers Day? On the 22nd of June, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, another solstice. Tis the height of summer, the longest day of the year, and thus we make merry.
But he remained obdurate. He claimed that the solstice in June marks the beginning of summer, not its midpoint.
You defy common sense, I shouted. After Midsummers Day the days gradually become shorter. Summer fades.
No, he replied. After the solstice, throughout the whole month of July, summer intensifies and becomes hotter. We may represent the graphs of sunlight and heat, said he, by two sine waves out of phase, the latter lagging behind the former by 45 degrees.
I know nothing of your higher mathematics, said I. But one thing I do know: the calendar tallies the risings and the settings of the sun. It tallies not the weather.
Ah well, said he, the seasons are but a man-made concept, after all. You and I have arbitrarily chosen how to divide the year into four equal quarters. Your Celtic calendar slices it up in one fashion, my English calendar in another. We shall be obliged to accept our differences.
No, said I, let us make a wager! Let us call upon Phillip here to decide the matter. Phil looked at me blankly.
Professor, I declared, your high-pressure system has led you to forecast that the morrow will be sunny again. If the sun does indeed shine tomorrow, and Phil again sees his shadow on the 2nd day of February as he has seen it today on the 1st, I shall accept your English calendar. I shall defer to the foolish notions of you and your friends in the ivory tower, and I shall agree that we must endure six more weeks of winter.
But my forecast is for cloudy skies tomorrow. And if I am correct, the sun is obscured, and Phil does not observe his shadow, then you must accept my Celtic calendar. You must admit that winter is over, the days are becoming longer, and spring is just around the corner.
We shook hands on the wager, and I went off to proclaim the terms of our accord throughout the borough of Punxsutawney.