A higher angle of light

PHOTO: Sharon Mollerus, Flickr CC-BY

Al Sleet, the hippy-dippy weatherman portrayed by comedian George Carlin, once offered the only fully accurate forecast: “Dark. Continued dark overnight, with widely scattered light by morning.”

You can quibble about cold and warm, snow or rain, but you can’t argue with the rotation of the earth on its wobbly axis.

Our dog Daisy knows what northern Minnesota meteorologists can’t say yet for fear of angry mobs. Spring is coming. She sees the sunbeams shining across our living room floor move deeper into the room. Each day they become warmer and more inviting. She rotates contentedly under the sun through the afternoon, like a cheddar bratwurst on those heated rollers at the gas station. Belly scritches become the toll for passing by her place on the rug.

It’s still cold out, sure. And there will be a few more blizzards, no doubt timed with our state basketball tournaments. (Maybe baseball, too, because this is Minnesota, after all.) But that’s just Arctic air overflowing from northern environs. These fronts may seem angry, but they are only temporary.

Changing seasons provide an important lesson in change. It’s never done. When I heard the chickadee singing its springtime song the other day, I cursed. Not at the song; that was lovely. I just really thought I’d have my crap together by spring and I don’t. Now I’ve got to go around the horn. Maybe by summer. We’ll see.

It is in this fashion that my 30s became my 40s. I see now what the old timers mean about time.

It continues to amaze me that most things change constantly and yet our brains trick us into thinking things stay the same, or that they should. Other than certain atoms, matter itself, everything changes. I can’t even count all the meetings I’ve attended where the goal was a “permanent solution.” None of the solutions were permanent. Some of those people are dead.

In this, nothing tells the truth quite like the angle of light coming from the sun. Plants and animals care less about temperature and snow cover than they do about light. The light tells geese to head north or south. The light tells trees to wake up. Light causes chickens to lay and deer to change their coat.

And this light is the one thing that changes constantly. The angle of light from one day to the next is always different than the day before. It follows a schedule tighter than any train or even the atomic clock, which must be adjusted every 80 million years or so. The angle of light is so precise that our big dumb brains can’t even process how accurately it tells us where we are and when.

Light even tells you what’s coming. Better than any Wall Street analyst or political prognosticator, the coming or going of light resolutely grooves fate into the soft vinyl record of our lives.

Carlin once eulogized Al Sleet, his famous “hippy-dippy” character:

“You know, when there’s nothing left to conquer in your field, hey, it’s time to leave,” said Carlin. “And old Al had given the ultimate forecast, he told us one night that the weather will continue to change on and off for a long, long time. Then he was gone from it. God bless Al.”

Maybe there’s no use in predicting the weather, but there is plenty to celebrate when the sun tells us spring is here.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, March 20, 2022 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


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