Opinion & Editorial

Sometimes, it’s all about getting through February

As I was writing recently, Feb. 28 according to my calendar, it was the last day of winter.

I don’t like February. In fact, every year I try to invent a way to cut it from the calendar (apologies to my friends with February birthdays). Science says spring starts on March 21.  

Astronomers assign season-starting dates by dividing the Earth’s orbit around the sun into four equal segments. It’s a tidy little system contrived for our convenience, but it seems pretty arbitrary, so I figure what’s the harm in jumping ahead a little.

There must be something we humans love about orbits. From TIME to ATOMIC STRUCTURE, a lot of our world is described by circles around circles. It makes sense if you accept that the Earth circles around the sun. The sun coming up and down every day has been a big part of reality ever since we crawled out of the muck, even before, when we were in the muck.  

Scientific descriptions of physical and chemical interactions, radio waves, X-rays, or the properties of and the movement of tides or the seasons, change all the time. Some concepts last longer than others, like gravity, which endures because no one has figured out yet how to defy that “what goes up must come down.”

Humans are a fairly self-centered species, and we forget that even the most useful and beautiful descriptions of natural phenomena are all our inventions.

If we hang around long enough, sometimes only decades, the ways we conceive of the universe change. Think about the present situation: During the Spanish Influenza pandemic in the early 20th century, we had no idea about DNA.  

It won’t be too long before we can say goodbye Einstein, Pasteur, Curie, Newton, Tesla, Galilei, Darwin, Linnaeus, Hook, Leeuwenhoek and Mendel. It is likely to be an even shorter time before we forget all about String Theory and Quantum mechanics.

I spent the first third of my life acquiring knowledge of those concepts, the next third moving away from them, and now, in the final third (if I’m lucky) I’m not concerned with organizing the world by scientific, religious, aesthetic, or mathematical concepts. I admire people who do that well but decades ago, after counting thousands of starfish eggs under a microscope, I knew I would choose a different path. It came down to how I wanted to perceive the world and that I didn’t want to time, count, measure, weigh, and evaluate everything in order to know it.

Most scientific laws are temporary, names of things change, organization of things change, even the most basic understanding of things change, and while we might “stand on the backs of giants” to see further than before, what they saw and what we see may be less consequential than what we want to believe. What was significant to me at 20 is different than what it is now at 65.

Twenty years ago, a friend asked me a blunt question about my political and spiritual beliefs; he said that what you believe dictates how you act. He asked, “What do you believe?”

After 65 trips around the sun what I’ve observed is that there are vast inconsistencies between one’s professed beliefs and how that gets translated into action. Human beliefs, when measured against human behaviors, can be very tricky.

For the record, my answer to the question was, “What people believe is irrelevant but how they act is not.” 

In the Great Pacific Northwest, we really only have two seasons, the long wet cold one and the long hot dry one, each one framed by about 20 perfect days of weather.

March 1 or March 21 doesn’t matter so much as when the crocuses pop through the ground and the alder buds swell. The plants and animals tell you more about the season’s timing than any calendar, and they started popping about six weeks ago. There are plenty of flowers showing now and the frogs, newts, and salamanders have laid their eggs in the pond. You don’t see tree frogs training their little amphibian eyes through little amphibian telescopes staring at the heavens waiting until the 21 of March to declare “Spring has come!”    

In that way, human behavior is similar to the seasons: What you see is what you get, and if you release any expectations it’s a lot easier to navigate through the world. 

March is upon us, the sweet time of renewal, longer days, brighter light, warmer air, fewer clothes. OMG, I made it to another one and I couldn’t be happier.

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