We can count on the seasons


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



This past week was filled with political bickering, campaign controversies and Supreme Court struggles. Many of us have been trying to determine who said what and what they really meant by what they said.

Sound confusing? It has been. This is a typical pre-election season, but if feels like it might be worse this year than most previous election years. It has been frustrating… very frustrating.

Sometimes it is refreshing to back away from all the social and political issues and reflect on something that is true and reliable – like the stars, the planets, the sun, and the moon.

I’ve always been fascinated by the certainty of the sky; the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. One season reliably follows the one before. Fall faithfully follows summer. This past week we saw the arrival of my favorite season – fall is now upon us.

I am lucky to have traveled to some fascinating places. Back in the days when I did a lot of scuba diving, I travelled frequently to a resort in the southern Bahamas called Stella Maris Inn. The inn sits on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic. The breeze that blows off the ocean is almost constant. The view is breathtaking.

One moonless night, Debbie and took a walk beside the ocean. There was a complete lack of man-made light, but I soon realized that I could still see our shadow.

I looked around for a light source and realized that our light was coming from the stars and the Milky Way. The billions of stars in the Milky Way formed what looked like a silvery, glowing cloud spread across the night sky. The sky was overflowing with stars. The light from the Milky Way was hauntingly beautiful.

A short drive from the inn, on the Caribbean side of the island, sat a rough little marina. Years ago, there was also a grimy little bar at the marina called Salty’s. The food was bad, but the beer was cold. It was nearly perfect.

A dark red line had been painted on the parking lot and sidewalk in front of Salty’s. That line marked the location of the Tropic of Cancer. During the summer solstice, which is the day that marks the beginning of summer, the sun is at its northernmost location – directly above the Tropic of Cancer.

If you stand on the Tropic of Cancer (the red line at Salty’s), exactly at noon on the summer solstice, you do not cast a shadow.

It always looked funny to stand up straight at noon and wiggle your hands close to your body while standing exactly on the painted red line. It looked like crabs were trying to climb out of your pockets.

Twice I had the privilege of traveling with a team of physicians and volunteers from the University of Cincinnati to the equatorial jungle of the Amazon. We travelled in a large boat (an open double-decker) along the Amazon and up a large tributary called the Rio Purus.

During our time on the water, we would treat over a thousand natives who were suffering from various diseases and injuries. It was an absolutely extraordinary place to visit. We worked an area of the Amazonian jungle that lay just south of the equator.

Our workday started early and ended late. At that latitude, there is little twilight. The sun goes down and it is almost immediately dark.

The same thing happens in the morning. There is almost no time between sunrise and full-blown daylight. It goes from completely dark to the bright sun blazing in your eyes. We all rolled out of our hammocks as soon as the sun popped out.

We traveled from to Ohio to the Amazon in late April. It was the beginning of the tropical dry season. Their temperature doesn’t vary much from season-to-season, so they regularly mark their calendar by the wet (rainy) season and dry season.

At noon, the sun is almost always directly overhead. Hot and humid. That is how I would describe their summer – very hot and very humid.

Now for just a touch of science.

We all know that the earth spins. It revolves once each day. We also know that, on a map, north is up, and south is down. But the earth doesn’t spin like a top. When a top spins, it spins sitting straight up.

The earth is slightly tilted. So, as we circle the sun on our annual orbit, there are times that part of the earth is closer to the sun (summer) than it is later in the orbit (winter). So, the earth is always moving – a daily spin and an annual orbit around the sun.

I’m surprised we don’t all get dizzy. Maybe we do.

Personally, fall is my favorite season. It’s comforting to see the crops ready for harvest. I love the certainty that our holidays are just ahead. I could never live in the tropics.

I love the change of seasons. I love the certainty that the warmth of spring follows every frigid winter.

I also know that this election season cannot be over too soon. Whatever the outcome, I pray that we can all move forward together – united in our desire to keep America the best place in the world to live.

We might never agree on how to accomplish that, but we should be able to work toward the common goal.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist