Tuesday, March 1, 2016

My Maxillaria sanguinea is blooming!



Happy Leap Day to all. The Maxillaria sanguinea is an orchid, by the way. The first that I have coaxed to bloom, and I bought it, sight unseen -- as far as the blooms go -- for its grassy foliage, which I hoped the cats would not eat. They didn't.

And I had a thought today, while "resetting" the German wine aisle. (To reset means to make the bottles look tidier and more attractive, and to fetch more of them from the back room to stock the shelves.)

My thought concerns Leap Day. I get annoyed when people don't know what it is, don't you? One of my coworkers has a birthday today, February 29. When she told us, a few weeks ago, another coworker, a young man, looked confused and said, "Oh, so your birthday is just February 28th, right?"

No! I wanted to shout testily on her behalf, it is not just February 28. She was born on February 29, Leap Day in Leap Year. It is unusual and special and delightful. Better than being born on Christmas even. What are the odds that any person will be born on that day, or that a woman who finds the date delightful and intriguing will also have a baby on that day? The dismissive word "just" should never be applied to it. No parents granted such a delightful and intriguing arrival should "just" celebrate the child's birthday on March 1. That is an entirely different date. Nor should they celebrate on the last day of February, which is not "just" February 28 either. People with an ounce of curiosity or appreciation for the delights and intrigues of life should make some sort of effort in this situation. At least give the child two birthdays, or have a midnight party on the eve of March 1st. When the true birthday comes around every fourth year, do something splashy. Dress up as Julius Caesar for example, who first put the day into the Western calendar, apparently during his leisure hours when he was not governing Rome, visiting Cleopatra, or fighting the Suevi. (Resetting the Germans, you might say.) And be sure to play lots of Rossini, also born on this day.

I get annoyed about people like the young man not knowing what Leap Day is, not because I stew at ignorance (we are all ignorant) but because I stew at lack of curiosity -- lack of any comprehension that any natural occurrences outside ourselves could have any impact on our lives. Except the weather. (Maybe that's why newscasts obsess over it?) Miss Read put it well if more softly, in The English Vicarage Garden (1988):
The problem for the city dweller is that the only form of life he knows is human. So it is the contribution of the rural theologian to speak of the natural world as he finds it, alive with his own life, and playing its own part in the vastly complicated inter-relationship of the cosmic order.
I'm not a rural theologian. Am I? Anyway it's not all his fault. I can't help but think that the problem for the young city dweller is not only that the only form of life he knows is human, but that his schooling and culture both have added the presumption that there is nothing worth knowing even about humans, except that they endure injustice requiring mostly leftist-state remedies. All that aside, however, I have had this new thought -- and now I think I won't get annoyed in future by people slighting Leap Day. I've hit on a way to explain it that may not make young coworkers' eyes glaze over at the yammering about how the Sun revolves around the Earth every 365 days, or is it the other way around.

The way to explain it is through the analogy of the time clock at work. Even as the earth revolves around the sun one full circle every 365 and 1/4 days, so if you punched in at your job every day as normal, but punched out fifteen minutes late one day a week, you would be "adding extra" to what you expected from your paycheck. Half an hour per pay period, two paychecks a month, equals an hour a month, which is twelve hours a year, or a day and a half of labor. If your pay did not reflect this accumulation, you'd be fuming about a lost, extra day, about "working a day and a half for free."

In the same way, a calendar that only allows 365 days a year will, by the fourth year, be missing a day, because the earth consistently takes longer to make its yearly circuit around the sun than we on paper allow for. It takes that extra one-fourth of a day per year, literally a bit over five hours. Like the employer paying you for your extra time, we insert Leap Day into February every fourth year, so that this extra time is accounted for. The earth, to phrase it whimsically, is paid back for its extra work. If this were not done, nothing about the sun or sky would change, but fixed dates like holidays would start to "back up" through the calendar; we would be always running five hours' more late every year. For instance Christmas would start to back up into warmer, sunnier seasons. It would be exactly as if your paycheck "backed up" to hourly rates that are correct for your fixed schedule, but not for what you actually did.

There, what do you think of my analogy? Do you think the young man's eyes will still glaze over, if I stun him with this the next time it matters, in February 2020? How does the rural theologian even give the city dweller the pleasure of notifying him of his existence?



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