Thinking Aloud

digital brain

Brain Limits

I’ve heard you can’t really multi-task, despite people who claim they can.

I don’t entirely agree. I can do more than one thing at a time, but only to a point. For example, I can perform simple familiar tasks, like washing dishes, while thinking about something I’m writing or intend to write. And listening to a news program. In fact, I need to have some sort of mental input while doing manual work, even something like sewing, which is not simple or familiar.

But there are limits. I’ve tested them.

First, let me describe the usual scenario in my writing and blogging space. There’s the computer, with a bunch of weather-related tabs open, plus WordPress, plus Goodreads and a few others. Also email, of course. There’s an old-fashioned mini-stereo setup behind and to one side of the computer. It can play CDs and even cassette tapes, although it’s hardly ever called upon to do that. Mostly it’s a radio, and if I’m at the computer, it’s always on, cranking out music, news, or a current affairs program. Sometimes there’s music on the radio and at the same time a podcast on the computer, talking to me through one earbud. And as well as listening, I’m reading blog posts, or even writing one.

multitasking head media colourful
Image from Pixabay

Is this ideal? Probably not, but it seems to work. Is it multi-tasking? No. It’s sequential tasking. The old brain can deal with only one or perhaps two of these inputs at a time. The music seems to seep through the other stuff, but if it fully engages my attention, I disengage from the other tasks so I can listen properly. Otherwise, I’m taking in and focussing on only the words I’m reading, writing, or listening to, for sequential short intervals. I have to admit, I miss a lot of details of the radio programs while paying attention to blog posts or whatever I’m writing. Quite often, my attention is caught by the host thanking the interviewee or announcing the performer, having missed whatever was said, played, or sung. Annoying, but there it is.

When this input-juggling is working well, I can actually get things read or written and switch focus in time to get something out of whatever I’m listening to. It’s not the best way to absorb information, but it’s the only way I’ve come up with to keep up with the blogs I follow and what’s going on in the world, as well as creating blog posts and other writings.

Maybe this is why by the end of the day I don’t trust myself to write comments on people’s blog posts. The brain is worn out!

A final thought: if a long writing session is too challenging, a five-minute one jammed in between other mental tasks is manageable. Several such sessions actually produce visible results. Note: I don’t write first drafts of novels this way; that’s a whole other process!

Ideal combinations:

  • manual work + informative radio program
  • reading blogs + informative radio program or music
  • reading fiction + music
  • writing + music

Ideally, only two inputs at a time, you notice.

On the other hand, I don’t watch anything. At all. Well, maybe the odd video, but only if it’s a short one. No TV, no streaming. I read a lot of books. I do this reading away from the computer and even the radio, mainly during meals and before going to sleep.

Fellow bloggers, how do you avoid brain overload? Do any of you multitask?

quote marks and talk bubbles

The Art of Commenting

I began blogging in 2010. It took me a surprisingly long time to figure out that if I wanted my posts to be read, I would have to indicate to other bloggers that my blog existed. That meant doing more than “liking” posts; I had to contribute my thoughts in the form of comments. Once I began doing that, my blog gained readers, “likes,” and followers. Now I am part of a large community of writers, thinkers, and opiners.

When it comes to commenting on blog posts, this is what I do:

  • I usually comment only when I have something to say (other than “Great post!”).
  • It’s easier to comment soon after a post has published, rather than when a couple of dozen other readers have said it all. It’s a bit lame to say, “What everyone else said,” or “Me too!”
  • I’m more likely to comment if a post has few or no comments, especially when there are quite a few “likes.” If there are lots of comments and I don’t have anything new to add, I “like” and leave.
  • I’m uneasy about commenting late in the day when I’m tired, because it’s too easy to word a comment badly and offend or mystify someone. When my gut says “Don’t do it!” I listen.
  • If a comment I’m about to post sounds patronizing or condescending, I don’t post it.
  • If I really have nothing to add, I don’t comment, but I “like” the post to indicate that I’ve read it.
  • Sometimes a “like” means “I like it!” but sometimes it’s just a way of saying “I read it.”
  • If I find a post offensive or totally unrelatable, I neither “like” nor comment, unless I can come up with a civil way of disagreeing that may add to the conversation.
  • I never say that a post is “fantastic,” “fabulous,” or (cringe) “awesome.” It’s theoretically possible that a day will come when I encounter a post that’s accurately described by one of these words (except “awesome”), but it’s unlikely.
  • The posts I find hardest to comment on are those where congratulations or condolences are the only possible responses. It’s hard to say those things in an original way. Instead of scrolling through dozens of near-identical comments, I skip to the end of the comments queue, say something brief and sincere, and don’t worry whether it’s original.
  • Otherwise, it’s often interesting to read others’ comments and even comment on them. I love it when that happens on my blog; it’s as though guests at a party are connecting without my help.
  • I always respond to comments on my blog, if only to acknowledge and thank the commenter.

When I read blog posts first thing in the morning, using a tablet, any comments I make have to be thumb-typed. I much prefer a real keyboard, but I’ve developed a fair amount of speed and accuracy on the tablet’s keyboard. I was delighted to discover where the apostrophe, parentheses, and hyphens were hidden. And I must say the word suggestions above the keyboard are handy (although sometimes a bit peculiar).

Fellow bloggers, what are your thoughts on comments? Please comment!

Snow on front garden shrubs February 2021

Climate Anxiety

As I write this, on November 7th, it’s snowing. Real snow, that’s sticking. A couple of inches have accumulated already, and will probably persist into tomorrow, as the temperature is near the freezing mark. A brisk northeast wind is adding to the feeling that winter has arrived early.

Let me just remind readers that I live in Victoria, British Columbia, where snow is rare most winters. Green Christmases are normal here. I don’t know if this is the earliest snowfall ever, but it’s the earliest I’ve experienced in my 30 years here. I haven’t really started on fall garden tasks. I haven’t even raked leaves, as many are still on the trees, and still green.

I haven’t done much of this yet!

A freak early snowfall is one thing, but this is the fifth in a series of weather extremes in the last two years. The first was the “heat dome” of June 2021, during which many high temperature records were shattered. On June 28th, my max/min thermometer recorded the unheard of high of 37C. In the BC interior, a small town was destroyed by fire on a day that saw temps near 50C. Exactly one year ago, torrential rain (287 mm. or 11 in. recorded here in November 2021) caused major damage in several communities and minor to moderate flooding all over southern BC. Right after Christmas 2021, came a week of extreme cold. That max/min thermometer recorded a low of -10C on December 27th, something I had never experienced here.

The next extreme was a three-month drought last summer. Almost no rain fell between July 7th and October 21st. Summer lingered endlessly. When rain finally started, it was pretty much at normal levels into November, but after the most recent system exited the region, seriously cold air moved onto the south coast from the now chilly interior of the province. According to meteorologists in Washington State, a “backdoor cold front” is pulling this cold air onto the coast and turning any precipitation that occurs to snow.

After all this, I’m apprehensive about what might come next. Blizzards, heat waves, tornadoes, hurricanes? The dynamics of weather have changed. Prediction models aren’t working any more. Everything’s unprecedented.

Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.
Orange sunset caused by wildfire smoke.

This makes me realize how much I’ve taken weather patterns for granted, and how disturbing it is to realize that weather is no longer predictable, that extremes may occur at any time. I can no longer tell myself that such events are freakish and rare, and once they’re over it’s back to normal. I’m not sure what normal looks like any more. Add to this similar extreme weather events in other parts of the world (terrible floods in Pakistan, destructive hurricanes in Canada’s Atlantic provinces and in Florida, heat waves and fires in Europe and California), and I feel a constant buzz of anxiety in the background of my days, even when nothing is happening.

We’re told to adapt and prepare, to assemble emergency supplies and “grab and go” bags in case we have to evacuate. (Of course we should already have done that, since we live in a place where a major earthquake may happen any time.) I can’t argue with that, but there’s a difference, I’ve realized, between knowing something unwelcome and accepting it. Acceptance is necessary before action is possible. In between these two states is a period of creeping unease and unfocussed anxiety.

Is any one else feeling climate anxiety? How do you deal with it?

Update: Most of the snow melted the next day, but temperatures are still several degrees below normal. The next week is supposed to be mostly sunny and dry. No floods expected, at least in the short term!

Observations on Junk, Actual and Virtual

We’ve lived in this house for 30 years, and hope to have another 20 before we “downsize.” Thirty years is more than enough time to accumulate a lot of useless stuff, and it’s best to get rid of it before the downsizing is imminent. Last September a large bin spent a week in the driveway while we deposited stuff into it. Soon after that, we did a run to a recycling yard with 150 kilos of old magazines, the kind with shiny, clay-infused paper.

But the house is still full of junk.

I will now share a few belated insights:

  • The fatal phrase, when it comes to surplus stuff, is: “It might come in handy someday.”
  • If anyone still has subscriptions to paper magazines or journals: read or at least scan them soon after they arrive. Keep an issue only if it contains information essential right then. If not, bin it, especially if you catch yourself saying or thinking “This might be worth keeping until I feel like reading it.” Get rid of the current issue before it becomes a past issue.
    • Think hard before buying or otherwise acquiring anything that isn’t edible. If in doubt, don’t. Or at least put the purchase off for a week. You may find you don’t need the item after all.
    • Resist mightily when family members offer you items from their own dejunking projects, along with a dose of guilt. “It’s been in the family for decades,” or “They don’t make these anymore,” or “The fabric is really good and it might fit you someday.” Nope. If there’s no other solution, pretend to accept the item and hustle it to the nearest donation centre forthwith.
      • There are times when one is motivated or forced to dejunk, as in getting ready for renovations or repairs. Seize those opportunities and make the most of them!

      The hardest items for me to dispose of are: a) useless, ugly objects freighted with sentiment, such as those family heirlooms; and b) clothing and textiles that can no longer be described as “gently worn,” but retain enough integrity that putting them in the garbage feels wrong. Recycling of textiles isn’t a possibility as yet where I live, and not every worn garment can be used as a cleaning rag.

      I think it’s easier to get rid of things once you reach a certain age. An object fuzzy with dust because it’s been untouched for a couple of decades looks more like trash than treasure. The space occupied by things becomes more valuable than the things. I often look at a room or a closet or a drawer and envision it unburdened from some proportion of its contents. Luxury is an empty space, not one crammed with stuff; it’s a shelf with one valued object, not a dozen useless, dusty items. This is worth remembering when looking at things begging to be bought. Space is indeed the final frontier.

      Books, of course, are the great exception.

      There is another form of clutter I am guilty of amassing—scraps of paper with thoughts, ideas, and observations. Yes, it would be better to have a notebook for that purpose, but there’s not usually one nearby when a noteworthy idea comes along. But there’s almost always a piece of paper handy–a receipt or envelope or piece of junk mail. So the brilliant idea is scribbled upon it. In time, a small heap of such idea-scraps forms, but unlike a compost heap, it doesn’t transform into something worthwhile all by itself.

      The other day, I spent several hours squinting at scribbles on scraps of paper, reading them, deciding whether they were worth keeping, and if so, where they belonged. Quite a few came from when I was writing books I’ve since published, so I put them in the recycling bin. Some were ideas for works I may write someday, so now reside in an envelope labelled Ideas for the Unwritten. Another batch relate to my completed but as yet unpublished novel, Winter Journeys. Sorting the scraps was worthwhile, but surprisingly tiring.

      I won’t even mention electronic clutter, such as the overflowing email inbox, the ever-expanding TBR in the e-reader, or all those bookmarks.

      Expression and creativity in a world without a soul

      Here is an inspiring post from writer, photographer, and observer of nature, Michael Graeme. His blog is always worth a visit!
      Leave comments on the original post, please.

      The Rivendale Review

      The arts put man at the centre of the universe, whether he belongs there or not. Military science, on the other hand, treats man as garbage – and his children, and his cities, too. Military science is probably right about the contemptibility of man in the vastness of the universe. Still – I deny that contemptibility, and I beg you to deny it, through the creation of appreciation of art.”

      Kurt Vonnegut -1970

      Unless you’re already some sort of celebrity, it’s a well established fact the arts are no way to make a living. But what they do for the ordinary Joe and Joanna, is make living meaningful, or even just bearable. It brings each of us back to the centre of our universe. It may be there is nothing to life and death, nor anything beyond it, and all our stories to the contrary are wishful thinking. But…

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      Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale. closeup of flower

      I Ask Of You A Difficult Task

      We can all use more hope these days. Please read the poem presented in RJ Llewellyn’s blog, and the thoughts it inspired.

      Writing Despite Computers and Programmes

      Truth be known. Some might think this as two tasks. Some might feel the source material and sentiments are not appropriate. Stay with me though.

      Firstly I would ask you to read the following Russian (there’s the current trigger word) WWII poem by writer and war correspondent Konstantin Simonov, written in 1941 to actress Velentina Serova. The moving work was carried by many USSR soldiers, wrapped with a picture of their wife or girlfriend, it became an unofficial icon, a means of coping, a hope the bearer would survive.

      Wait for Me

      Wait for me, and I’ll come back!
      Wait with all you’ve got!
      Wait, when dreary yellow rains
      Tell you, you should not.
      Wait when snow is falling fast,
      Wait when summer’s hot,
      Wait when yesterdays are past,
      Others are forgot.
      Wait, when from that far-off place,
      Letters don’t arrive.
      Wait, when those with whom you wait

      View original post 877 more words

      Today It Is Ukraine. Yesterday It Was Elsewhere. Tomorrow? This Never Rests.

      Here are thoughts worth reading from RJ Llewellyn, about the war in Ukraine, and other wars in other places.

      Writing Despite Computers and Programmes

      Where do we begin? How do we explain?

      24th February 2022. Another Date To Remember….So many events, actions and commentaries since the day Putin and his court decided to take the next step in their endeavours to bring The Ukraine back under Kremlin control. The avalanche into the medias has been such that I literally had to check the start date. It was as if Time measured in days had ceased to be a relevant method of recording, all that counted was The Narrative, every daily action is affected by The Narrative, even Sunrise and Sunset are but part of the backdrop. So many folk are asking ‘How could this happen?’ Understandable.

      Under the lens of the seemingly disturbing and dispassionate study of International Relations’ Realism theories what is happening in the Ukraine is predictable, almost inexorable. However this is not the arena to be bandying terms such as ‘Anarchic…

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      card catalogue drawers

      Being a Cataloguer

      Have you ever lost a book in your house? And, while looking for it, been surprised to find one you don’t remember buying (or borrowing)?

      Imagine how hard it is to keep track of thousands of books distributed among multiple buildings and available to be borrowed by thousands of people. That’s the situation in libraries, especially large public libraries and those that are part of colleges and universities.

      In past centuries, when books were owned by the privileged few, it was possible to keep track by means of handwritten lists and users’ knowledge of their collections. But with the proliferation of printed books, increased literacy, and the growth of universities, something flexible and expandable was needed.

      Card-based book inventories emerged at the end of the 18th century. Rumour has it that in France, playing cards, whose backs were blank at the time, were pressed into service to keep track of book collections. A book’s particulars were written on the blank side of a card, and the cards filed in order. But the real development and standardization of the card catalogue happened in the United States. By the end of the 19th century, wooden cabinets with hundreds of cute little drawers full of 3 x 5-inch cards (familiar to most people of a certain age) were seen in just about all libraries, big and small.

      Someone had to create, file, and organize those cards. Enter the cataloguer.

      During the Golden Age of Cataloguing (defined by me to be more or less 1900 to 1980), just about all libraries of any size had cataloguing departments, employing anywhere from one person who did it all to dozens, working behind the scenes, largely unseen by and unknown to library users. Every book passed through that department, emerging with a spine label that was in effect its address in the library. And into those drawers went 3 x 5-inch cards bearing a distillation of each book’s essence: author, title, edition, publisher, place and date of publication. Number of pages and height. Series. Presence of bibliography and/or index. Subjects. Co-authors, editors, and illustrators. The ISBN and other identifying numbers.

      Elaborate rules were devised for recording and presenting all this information in a systematic way. Devised, revised, and occasionally re-devised. In North America, half a dozen cataloguing codes were created during that century. I entered the profession when one of them, the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, second edition (AACR2) was adopted. Coincidentally, it was replaced by a new code not long before I retired.

      In the 1960s, computers entered the picture and the whole thing was automated, by means of something called MAchine Readable Cataloging, aka “MARC Format.” Complex computer systems were created to use the data, first to print catalogue cards, and later for the online public catalogues still in use today. A whole new jargon and set of acronyms resulted. Real cataloguers “spoke MARC,” as in, “That goes in the 490, not the 245 p. The indicator is 1, so you need an 800, with the name from the 100 in ‘a’ and the title in ‘t.'” Translation: “That’s a series statement, not part of the title. It’s indexed, so add an author-title entry for it.” (Yeah, I know, that’s jargon too.) MARC Format was like a secret handshake among members of an occult society.

      This was the milieu in which I spent my entire career as a librarian (1980 to 2016), at first in an environment cluttered with electric erasers, coding sheets, and coloured markers flagging new cards whose filing had to be checked. There was a never-seen-by-the-public master card catalogue called the “shelflist.” Books were adorned with an array of labels, stickers, coloured dots and spots. Passionate discussions, even arguments, occurred among cataloguers, about rule interpretations and minutiae of data. In the 1980s, the high discipline of Authority Control emerged–in effect, cataloguing the names of persons, things, and subjects, and creating a system of links among them.

      Cataloguing was the perfect calling for a detail-oriented introvert with a fixation on order and organization.

      Our mission was to apply and interpret the rules to create a map of our library’s collection, to help users find exactly what they needed, whether they were writing a thesis or looking for a good read. To create a catalogue record for a published work, the cataloguer must grasp the author’s intent, the information provided by the publisher, the needs of library users, and the rules and conventions of cataloguing. And sometimes the thing being catalogued is in a language of which the cataloguer has only the sketchiest knowledge.

      Unfortunately, all this wasn’t always valued by managers and administrators. In fact, it often seemed they were our worst enemies, even our librarian colleagues. A whole department of behind-the-scenes specialists who spoke in arcane jargon and held books hostage until they had been subjected to obscure rituals? Bean-counting administrators focussed beady eyes on us as an unaffordable “cost centre.” We cataloguers became defensive, and resented having to justify our existence to people who refused to appreciate the value of our art. (And some of us secretly dreaded the prospect of being plucked from our cozy enclaves and thrust into contact with The Public.)

      As the 20th century sputtered out, so did card catalogues. All those wooden cabinets were sold to people who thought they looked cool and retro, and were perfect for storing small collectibles. Library catalogues moved online, and there were calls for the death of the MARC Format, which was, after all, nearly 50 years old, like so many of the cataloguers who knew and loved it.

      The Golden Age is over, but cataloguing hasn’t disappeared. Books and other intellectual creations still need to be organized, searched for, and cited. A giant entity called WorldCat has swallowed almost all the individual catalogues. Many libraries have disbanded their cataloguing departments and outsourced the work. Now we have something called “metadata,” a term familiar to self-published authors. Some (rather odd) people catalogue their personal book collections on Library Thing. As “search” enters a new era, many of those minutiae-worshipping, MARC-talking cataloguers have retired. Some of them are writing and publishing novels.

      The narrator of my novel, The Friendship of Mortals, a guy named Charles Milburn, is a cataloguer at Miskatonic University in Arkham, at the beginning of the 20th century. The demands of the plot limit his opportunities to hold forth about his profession, but for those who are curious about it, there is a pretty good article in Wikipedia. Look under “Cataloging.” There’s also an interesting blog post about card catalogues from the US National Library of Medicine: Card Tricks: The Decline & Fall of a Bibliographic Tool.

      It’s possible to catalogue anything. A former colleague told me he had catalogued a dustball, with smaller dustballs as supplements. When I retired, my staff made a spoof catalogue record for me. Here it is, in glorious MARC Format. That’s what all those numbers and lowercase letters are. Cataloguers know what they mean; others don’t need to. (Apologies for the reflections from the laminated paper.)

      Fake catalogue record for Audrey Driscoll in MARC Format
      Click on the image and zoom it up to read!

      Featured image from Pexels

      Page from weather record book December 2021

      Weather Anxiety

      I am a weather nerd. I follow weather obsessively online, via forecasts, satellite and radar, a network of local observations, and meteorologists’ technical discussions. For the past several decades, I have recorded high and low temperatures, cloud types, approximate wind strength and direction, and precipitation every day. I know how weather works in my region. Until this year.

      All day it has been windy. The trees are in full leaf now, and their branches toss and sway, throwing off twigs, leaves, and green unripe keys (maple seeds). Siberian irises just coming into bloom shimmy and shake, but one stem of a tall bearded variety (white with purple edges) bows down to the ground. The gardener hustles over, makes sure the stem is only bent and not broken, and administers first aid with a bamboo stake and a couple of ties.

      An evening around the time of the summer solstice. There is no wind; the air is absolutely still and perfumed by a thousand rose flowers in bloom. Plants stand in their characteristic shapes, their leaves precisely angled to stems and stalks, each one with its own version of the colour green. The sun has slipped out of sight, but its light gilds the scene with perfection. The gardener stands and stares, a cluster of deadheads in one hand, secateurs in the other. As dusk softly advances, the garden becomes a place in which a mystery is about to be revealed.

      I wrote these two paragraphs last May, back when local weather was what is generally termed “normal.” I think I intended them to be part of a blog post about weather from a gardener’s point of view. Then at the end of June came the “heat dome,” four days of abnormally hot temperatures. All kinds of records were shattered, 600 people died in the province of British Columbia, and a small town in the interior was pretty much destroyed by fire on a day when the local temperature topped out at nearly 50 degrees C.

      Weird light at sunset. Orange light due to wildfire smoke.
      Weird orange sunlight because of smoke from forest fires in the BC interior, 2018

      Autumn came, a time that is usually benign and associated with harvest and plenty. Not this year in BC. After a dust-dry summer, copious rain in September and October quickly saturated soils. A succession of “atmospheric river” rainstorms arrived at the end of October and into November and brought catastrophic flooding to several communities. And I really mean catastrophic–homes destroyed, farm animals drowned, lives disrupted. Between fires and floods, thousands of people in this province were forced from their homes in 2021, some permanently.

      There was a small tornado–in November, in Vancouver, BC! Nothing like the truly devastating tornados in the US in December, but both of those events were unusual and suggest that fundamental change is happening. Almost every week since June, weather in western Canada has been described as “extreme,” “record-breaking,” or “unprecedented.” Including extreme cold during the week between Christmas and the new year.

      I spent an hour on Christmas day moving potted pelargoniums (tender geraniums) and the garden hose into the house, because three nights of -8 or -9 degrees C (16 to 18F) were predicted. The average low temperature at this time of year is 1C (34F). On Boxing Day, the temperature did not exceed -5C (23F), and that night my max-min thermometer recorded -10C (14F). All day, I was busy rotating hummingbird feeders in and out of the house as the liquid inside began to freeze. At first I tried a trick I saw on the internet: wrapping a string of incandescent Christmas lights around the feeder. It looked pretty, and one hummingbird even visited, after he got over his nervousness, but unfortunately the lights didn’t produce enough heat. I resorted to buying a third feeder so I always had one in the house to swap out with a freezing one outside. Sadly, I suspect some hummingbirds–females or juveniles–may have perished.

      Hummingbird feeder with Christmas lights December 2021
      Not the best photo, but it shows the Christmas light setup and a hummingbird visiting the feeder. Too bad the lights didn’t produce enough heat.

      A short period of below normal cold isn’t unusual in the course of a winter, but it usually happens in January or February, not December. Same with the occasional summer heat wave–in July or August, not June. I can’t help thinking that this period of extreme cold right after the winter solstice somehow corresponds to the abnormal heat which arrived right after the summer solstice.

      Right here, right now, the weather is out of whack. It’s tempting to attribute this to climate change, rather than to normal ups and downs. Against reason, I’m hoping this has just been a year of anomalous weather for western Canada, but three anomalies in the same year indicates something more fundamental. Governments and power companies now advise everyone to put together emergency kits in case of extensive power outages or evacuation orders. (Of course, we who live on the west coast are supposed to have such kits already, in anticipation of the Big One.)

      Whatever the cause, I’m now experiencing weather anxiety, even though I haven’t been affected in any serious way (yet). When sounds of rain and wind wake me at night, I get up and doom-scroll check radars and satellites on whatever device is handy. Earplugs are now standard sleeping equipment. Normal isn’t normal any more. The past can no longer predict the future. Scanning my decades of weather observations tells me only about weather of the before times. The extremes of yesterday may be the normals of tomorrow.

      Weather record books

      Or maybe this is only a blip (well, three blips)? Take the Blizzard of 1996, for example. A metre and a half of snow fell on Victoria, BC over several days in late December, with a grand finale that buried cars and brought the city to a standstill for a week. It was one of those extreme, record-breaking, unprecedented weather events. But nothing like it has happened in the quarter-century since. So, climate change notwithstanding, I hope 2021 has just been a year of freakish weather in my part of the world, and we can return to blissfully boring in the near future. Recognizing, of course, that for some folks in the towns of Lytton, Merritt, Princeton, and in the Fraser Valley, the road back to normal may be long and hard, no matter what the weather.

      pocket watch and book

      Falling Back, Staying Put, or…?

      Early this Sunday morning, clocks in most places in North America fell back by one hour, to Standard Time. (Okay, so a whole lot of smart phones jumped the gun, so to speak, a week early. Maybe courtesy of a Halloween gremlin?)

      Falling back and springing forward has been happening for decades. The idea was to save energy. Or to lengthen summer evenings and not have the crack of dawn arrive at 4 a.m. Until recently, the change happened every 6 months, but “since 2007, in areas of Canada and the United States of America in which it is used, daylight saving time begins on the second Sunday of March and ends on the first Sunday of November.” (So says Wikipedia.)

      As you read this, keep in mind that the tilt of the Earth relative to the Sun, and the consequent changes in day length in different places, is real and unchangeable (at least by us humans). Clock time, on the other hand, is a human construct. Until the past couple of centuries, humans managed their sleeping and waking by the sun. Now most of us are governed by clocks and artificial light.

      For the past decade or so, there has been a lot of grumbling about the semiannual clock change, especially in spring, when suddenly you’re late or sleep deprived, or both. Serious proposals have been made to just stop this nonsense already. The province of British Columbia and a handful of US western states were working out a plan for permanent Daylight Saving Time just before the Covid pandemic began. The rationale was, we’re on DST for 8 months of the year already; why not just keep it year round? Like many other things, the plan was derailed by the virus.

      One Canadian jurisdiction, the Yukon Territory, actually changed to permanent DST in 2020. I haven’t been able to find out how that went for people who live there, but a proposition for permanent DST was recently voted down by a narrow margin in the province of Alberta. This article addressed some of the pros and cons.

      Recently, I’ve heard and read arguments against permanent DST and in favour of permanent Standard Time. Experts on sleep (not cats, but people who study sleep scientifically) say that year round DST would diverge too much from the natural sleep-wake cycle baked into our physiology. Especially in northern latitudes, sunrise in winter would happen as late as 10 a.m., which would mess us up as much as the twice a year clock change, only the effect would be of longer duration. So we’d experience more grumpiness, accidents, heart attacks, etc.

      It seems that morning light has all kinds of benefits, both mental and physical. Forcing people to get up and out while their brain and body think they should still be asleep has bad effects such as depression, anxiety, sleep problems, and even obesity. Standard Time synchs clocks with sunrise better than Daylight Time would if the latter were maintained in winter. The later sunrises and lingering evenings of Daylight Time in summer are not shown to have those fundamental benefits.

      These arguments do make sense to me, now that I’ve heard them expressed by different experts and thought about them for a while. To be truthful, the clock changes didn’t bother me that much when I was working, but then I’m lucky to have few problems getting to sleep and staying that way for at least 7 hours. And now that I’m retired, being on time isn’t as important. I lived in the province of Saskatchewan for twelve years (1980 to 1992), where permanent Standard Time is in place, with no plans to change, as far as I know. The only inconvenience there was figuring out what time it was in other places before making a phone call.

      What do you think of the semiannual clock change? Are you okay with “Spring forward, fall back,” or do you want it done away with?

      And here are a few garden sights from October…

      Featured image from Pixabay