Life in the Pedestrian Lane

Save that light for when we need it

Posted: Sunday, April 01, 2007

April fool! Today would have been the day, except for the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that our president slipped by us a couple of years ago designed to save a few barrels of oil. The elders among us, namely those of the Greatest Generation, must be having a feeling of “déj vu all over again.”

FDR made “war time” a law in the U.S. from 1942 to 1945 to conserve energy during World War II. When it was rescinded the individual states went their separate ways regarding date and duration of time changes, which created mass confusion in the transportation and broadcasting industries. Then Congress passed the Uniform Time Act in 1966 and daylight-saving time was standardized for beginning and ending dates. The states were given the choice of whether to follow it or not. Each state has the opportunity to vote itself out of daylight-saving time (are you listening, Alaska congresspersons?). Indiana held out for many years, but in 2005, amid much contention, voted that the entire state would change time on the first Sunday in April 2006, along with the 47 other states that feel the need to save their daylight.

Hawaii and Arizona are the spendthrifts. Hawaii, of course, can afford it, with nearly equal hours of day and night. They could use some of our excess. It’s a real pain to be sitting on the beach watching a beautiful sunset and when the big red orb has dropped into the sea it’s pitch black out. Not like here, where even in winter (when we could use some of that sunshine) each sunrise dallies a little, spreading its glow before climbing over the horizon, and then we enjoy a lingering twilight after the sun sets.

If you’ve ever spent a summer day in Arizona you know they don’t need an hour more in the hot, hot sun. We could lend them some winter time, but that’s another story.

Starting in 2007 daylight-saving time begins in March and continues into November. Not only did we have to reset our internal clocks, but we had to make sure our computers caught the patch (or not) to accommodate the early shift. I hate it when a machine is smarter than me! Of course, we aren’t really “saving” daylight, we’re simply shifting it to suit our purposes. But for reasons of public relations, even way back when, “daylight-shifting time” didn’t have quite the ring to it that the politicians needed to sell it to the very skeptical public. They tend to shy away from anything “shifty” in context. And even with the sanitized semantics, not everyone bought into the concept.

I always wonder how we’re going to use the daylight we save. Since it comes at the end of the day (theoretically), it seems logical to use it for recreation. Of course, because it is light most of the time during the savings months, I’m never sure which hours are the ones I’m allowed to use willy-nilly. I hope it is the hours right after dinner, because that is when I want to spend it frivolously, but probably it is the ones after 10 p.m. when I need to go to bed but don’t because it is still light.

Some Type A people suggest that the hours saved are to be spent mowing lawns or weeding gardens. They’re also the ones who save money for practical things like new carpet or a snowblower, never giving a thought to maybe squandering a little for a trip to Hawaii or a night on the town.

Daylight-saving time always suggests to me a big jar being filled with rays of sunshine. Every day we stuff some into the top until a golden excess spills out. When we “fall back” I see the lid being screwed down and the gleaming jar stashed on a shelf somewhere. This picture is probably a remnant of my early childhood. I’m sure the adults in my life had something to say about saving time and that, coupled with the memory of Grandma canning peaches in a Mason jar, completed the metaphor in my mind.

Just when we could use a few extra hours of light, we’ll “fall back” and it will be dark when we are going and coming. November would be the time to pull those jars of “saved” daylight down off the shelves and sprinkle them around to brighten our shortening days. Maybe we can convince our legislators that shifting time in Alaska should be done just the opposite from the rest of the world -- say, October through March -- and put some of that daylight we’ve saved over the years to use during our long dark winter.

And don’t forget the main reason for this major shift -- be sure to count those barrels of oil you saved.

Virginia Walters lived in Kenai.

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