When the clock’s sleight of hand
something stronger than habit
relearning the day’s hours.
This recalcitrant instinct
like a knot in pine that will not sand smooth
I still struggle with Daylight Saving Time as much as I did when I wrote that poem years ago. Daylight Saving Time makes sense at a practical level—take advantage of daylight to work more, play more, and use energy resources more efficiently. But there is something inherently wrong about manipulating the clock every spring and fall.
I’m not a back-to-nature zealot (e.g. if only humans hadn’t interfered with the natural world, life would be better). And I have no problem recording TV shows to watch later. But like it or not, humans are basically animals. Our bodies are attuned to nature and humans, as well as plants and even bacteria, are ruled by circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are the logic behind our sleeping and eating patterns. Daylight cues the nerve cells in our brain (a.k.a. the biological clock), which regulate our sleep-wake cycles, body temperature, hormone release, and more.
So mammal that I am, as the days grow shorter, I’ve been craving more sleep, wanting hearty stews and soups, and feeling satisfied that my nest is prepared for winter. I’ve gotten used to getting up in the dark, so it’s unsettling to wake up when the sky is lightening up—I’m late! No, it’s OK, calm down. Plus my brain is full of complicated, emotional dreams (well, it probably always was full of busy dreams, but now I have to know about it). So I wake up disoriented and vaguely upset.
The shift to early darkness is just as perturbing. Why is it dark when I walk to my car after work? I should be home by now. Something isn’t right. This confusion and unease goes on for weeks.
We can, by an act of will declare that it’s Daylight Saving Time and disregard what our bodies need, but we’ll pay for it for days, and sometimes, weeks. Why? Because of a basic arrogance that says we can manipulate or conquer the natural world.
But when I get up tomorrow in gray dawn and drive home from work in full dark, I’ll be still be jangled and wondering if Daylight Saving Time is worth it.
Today, I have a second reason why my sleep was disturbed—I stayed up too late watching the election returns. Thank you to the people of Minnesota for helping re-elect Obama and for defeating the voter ID and gay marriage ban amendments! Thanks also to the Toledoans who renewed the library levy! It’s a good day in America.