by Dr. Teresa Woods
My bedroom window faces north, and I usually don’t see the sun shining directly through it. However, it’s been showing itself through this window recently, shining directly in my window at sunrise and at sunset. It didn’t do this earlier in the year! What’s going on?
Watching the familiar pattern I’ve seen in the many places I’ve lived (north of the Equator), I notice that at this time of year, the sun now rises not just east, but in the northeast. And when it sets, it sets in the northwest. From sunrise to sunset, that sun stretches up in a high arc so that at mid-day, it is overhead, though a little to the south. That’s how it looks to us in the middle latitudes of the northern hemisphere around the Summer Solstice, the day of longest sunlight, which will be on June 21st this year.
In contrast, during the Winter Solstice, the day of shortest sunlight, the sun rises in the southeast, and rises only medium-high in the southern sky before it sets in the southwest. In winter at midday, the sun is lower in the sky than it is in summer at midday, and it always stays in the south throughout the day. It’s a short time of sunlight, which means the sun doesn’t warm the part of the Earth I’m standing on much at that time of year.
Ah, but now at the Summer Solstice, the sun shines on my little corner of the Earth for several more hours each day, rising earlier and setting later, with more direct sunlight than in the winter! I welcome its warmth and comfort.
When most of us learned about such nodal points in the cycle of the year (Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, Winter Solstice, Spring Equinox), we probably had a teacher or textbook present us with a model of the earth and sun as seen from outer space, with abstract lines representing the angle of the sun’s rays. But how many of us learned about these nodal points by pure observation of the phenomena in nature around us? What do those models mean if we don’t connect them to our everyday experience?
Let’s go outside and watch the patterns that form the great dance in the world around us! There’s increasing warmth in the land now that the sun is shining for so long. The plants and animals respond with growth, activity, and the generation of new young ones! So many questions will arise based on the phenomena we actually observe directly! Why is the warmest time of the year not actually at the Summer Solstice? Where will the sun rise and set tomorrow? What if I started marking these spots somehow, like on my window, or by great stones like people centuries ago did? Where and when will the moon rise tonight? What phase is it in? Where will it be tomorrow at the exact same time? Is the moon only visible at night? Can you picture it in your mind’s eye when you close your eyes?
Science is based on the activity of trying to understand phenomena. But it can simply be a stack of dry facts if not infused with wonder, the force that compels us toward the phenomena that surround us every day. Science in Waldorf schools is phenomena-based, starting first, as all science does, with observing phenomena that make us wonder, “What is going on?” Wonder evokes an awe of the grandeur, the miraculous, the tiny, the wisdom of the world.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, father of phenomenological science, said, “The beautiful is a manifestation of secret laws of nature, which but for this phenomenon would have remained hidden from us forever.”
Let’s be inspired by the real phenomena surrounding us in nature. Where is the sun rising, where is it setting, in your corner of the Earth? Take your children and explore.