On & Off Earth

While the summer solstice was the longest day of the year, July begins with only three minutes’ less daylight and still a serious need for shade and/or sunscreen. By the time August arrives there will be 39 less minutes of daylight but still, deep into summer, not something anyone is really noticing.

Nor will anyone notice, or likely realize, that during our hottest month we are also the farthest from the sun. Earth reaches that point, aphelion, on the evening of the 5th, over 94 1/2 million miles from our star; our tilt, however, guarantees hot weather for months to come. Farther from the sun means Earth travels a little slower in its orbit, making summer the longest season of the year.

Short nights, heat, humidity and mosquitoes don’t make for ideal stargazing but you can, not long after sunset, catch the bright Evening Star, Venus, not far above the horizon in the west. Mars will be very close and very dim next to Venus on the 12th. The Full Buck moon (bucks in full velvet these days) is the 23rd. Jupiter and Saturn are the brighter stars in the pre-dawn sky and the sun begins July in Gemini, moving into Cancer on the 22nd.

If you recall from your world history lessons, July was renamed by the Roman senate to honor Roman emperor Julius Caesar. They changed the name from Quintilis, the fifth month on the Roman calendar, an honor we also remember not all were pleased with, i.e. Brutus.

Our democracy is always a work in progress, loosely based but looking to improve on the Roman system of laws and civic involvement. It celebrates its 245th birthday on July 4th. If our democracy is to continue and thrive, in a world increasingly dictatorial, it is going to take all of us getting together, even as we disagree exactly how, to deal with the changes that will continue to tumble our way.

For Virginia gardeners, the goal for July 4th celebrations is for homegrown tomatoes on the menu. I will, again, fall short of that goal; plant late, harvest late. Cucumbers and zucchini are nice, but they are not homegrown tomatoes. If the deer and squirrels do not intervene (hair trimmings from the floor of Sherry’s Snip & Style, sifted liberally on the plants, seems to be working), my tomatoes will be ripe not long after the 4th.

Don’t like tomatoes? That’s OK, everyone has their own personal likes and dislikes. The nice thing about the freedoms we enjoy in the USA is we get to make our own choices, have our own personal opinions, hold dear to our own personal beliefs. Teaching science, I tried to stick to the facts that had been tested and retested.

When asked during the unit discussing the evolutionary changes, written in the rock, of the long history of Earth, I replied that my beliefs were very personal, and that I didn’t feel it was my place to share them in a science classroom. Mentioning that perhaps, if everyone kept their own, unique, personal beliefs to themselves, the world might just be a more peaceful place, seemed to give everyone a moment of quiet reflection before we got back to dinosaurs.

It is so nice to be able to celebrate the 4th after the last year but safety, in its many forms, should always be the first part of your plans …including sunscreen! Next month: a big anniversary involving the rock underneath our feet.

Randy Holladay is a former Louisa County High School earth science teacher. He can be reached at oldrockguy@gmail.com.

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