CSotD: Solsticology

Arlo & Janis (AMS) has a tradition of Arlo waxing philosophical while Janis takes a more pragmatic view, and it makes for a nice way to welcome summer, unless, as Arlo points out, you’ve already welcomed summer in one of its other guises.

Or, like Janis, you’ve had enough summer already thankyouverymuch.

One issue with national cartooning is that you can riff on things happening in one part of the nation only to find they’re not happening in other places, and, while those of us in the Northeast are aware of ghastly high temperatures elsewhere in the country, we haven’t experienced them. In fact, a hiker died of hypothermia in snowy weather on Mt. Washington Saturday and the rescue squad had to put chains on their tires because of the icy roads.

My diagnosis would be that the record highs across the rest of the country are part of climate change, as is the on-again, off-again moderate weather here, though Mt. Washington has always been known for dangerous extremes and shouldn’t be held responsible for anything.

Anyway, if y’all would like to ship us 10 or 15 degrees, we’d certainly be able to bear it and I’m sure you’d be happier to be rid of it. We can swap you for some wind, since we’ve had plenty.

Call it “The New Abby Normal.”


The actual significance of the date, or the solstice, which doesn’t always fall on the same calendar day, is length of sunshine, as noted in this Real Life Adventures (AMS).

Having largely abandoned our agrarian economy, I don’t know how much these longer days matter, beyond giving everyone a chance to complain about Daylight Saving Time each time it comes around. Pretty sure it’s of little significance to the animals in factory farms, though I’m equally sure that it matters, say, to wheat farmers, not because they’re out working in it so much as because it helps their crops.

But by the time you see those long parades of gigantic harvest equipment trouping across the Eastern Plains in Colorado, and mountains of grain piling up at the railside in places like Cheyenne Wells, we’re well beyond solstice and close to equinox.

To which I would add that, while I don’t know how old Elisabeth McNair is, she appears far too young to remember when fruits and vegetables were truly seasonal, though I hope she recognizes the difference between the rubber strawberries that are in the store all year compared to the pick-your-own delicious berries that are only around for a few weeks.

I will give Chile credit for being able to furnish us with good, crisp apples year ’round, though I prefer their grapes crushed and fermented.


And I know that Jonesy is not old enough to remember when solstices were marked by light peeping through a particular hole in a rock ceiling, but I do like the idea of wrist henges.

Sundials are not terribly precise, though you can tinker with them more or less constantly to make them more accurate than matters.

In sundial days, knowing the time within half an hour sufficed for most needs. They may have been less technologically advanced, but they were more civilized.

However, they did keep accurate track of their solstices, and we could have a debate over whether Indiana Jones’s Orb of Zot (or whatever the hell that was) could still lead him to the loot, given the precessions of equinoxes and suchlike, but the Sun still comes through at Newgrange on the Winter Solstice, though the mound was built before the Pyramids.

That website explains things with admirable restraint:

The intent of the Stone Age farmers who build Newgrange was undoubtedly to mark the beginning of the new year. In addition, it may have served as a powerful symbol of the victory of life over death.

Or not. Anyone who prattles on about Druids and Celts and suchlike is buying into a silly fraud, but it should be enough to realize that ancient people were fairly sophisticated in figuring out things that mattered to them.


Which brings us to today’s Carpe Diem (KFS), in which Niklas Erikssen brings up the Scandinavian history of modest exploration. Note that Erikssen, despite being an actual Swede, depicts Vikings with horns on their helmets, and suggests that they discovered more than one continent, so don’t take this as a history lesson.

Eric the Red wasn’t a Viking anyway. He was more of a real estate developer, and, having learned that calling a place “Iceland” didn’t draw as many settlers as he’d have liked, decided “Greenland” was a better name for his next project, though, as the old sea chantey puts it,

Oh, Greenland is a dreadful place
A land that’s never green
Where there’s ice and snow and the whalefishes blow
And daylight’s seldom seen, brave boys
And daylight’s seldom seen

As it turns out, he had more luck with Iceland, and none at all with Markland, which his son discovered on an actual brand new continent, or, at least, brand new from a European perspective, though the skraelings knew it was there.

The skraelings also knew they weren’t in need of new neighbors, and it’s interesting to ponder whether the Norsemen backed off because they didn’t have overpowering weaponry or because the skraelings didn’t have any gold or whether it was because they simply weren’t as ambitious as their southern neighbors would prove to be a few hundred years later.

But it’s worth pointing out that, while they did a bit of plunder in Ireland, they mostly came there as farmers.

Perhaps because the locals could tell them when the solstices came.


When I was a kid in New York State, the summer solstice roughly coincided with the end of school, and, like Caulfield in this Frazz (AMS), I felt getting through was the goal, and, unlike Frazz, I barely checked the results, which is likely why I graduated from college in the top 85% of my class.

Which I didn’t discover until some years later when I sent for my transcripts so I could apply for an MFA.

But then someone asked me, “If MA stands for ‘More Academia,’ what does MFA stand for?”

And Bingo! I was smarter already!


5 thoughts on “CSotD: Solsticology

  1. Out here in Seattle, we pretty much skipped spring and went straight from winter (see: June-uary) to summer-like weather on the first day of astronomical summer, although the start of summer around here is commonly said to be July 5.

  2. I think the Little Ice Age, which began around 1303, may have had something to do with the failure of the Markland community. It was always close to the bone.
    The Little Ice Age lasted intil about 1860, long after Markland had been forgotten.

  3. One of the best humorous historical novels I’ve ever read is MEADOWLAND by Tom Holt, about the early Viking voyages to North America and how everything promising soon got messy and went pear-shaped. Allegedly told as reminiscences by low-level Vikings who had no interest in the trips but kept getting sucked into them over and over:


  4. July 1, 2022

    In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, the current temp is 54 degrees w/ fog & a brisk sea breeze … tomorrow the temperature promises to skyrocket to 65° … 20 miles away, on the other side of the coastal hills, it can be 100° in the afternoons. Geography is destiny … or @ least interesting.

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