Interesting things happen when you start watching the sunset nearly every night. When I started watching in the dead of winter, it was dark by 5pm. Now it's dark at 6pm. Come summer and I'll be out there as late as 9pm watching the sun dip down (though my dislike of warm weather may deter me.)
Along with the time differential comes a "neighborhood habits" differential. While some activity follows the sun—my back yard neighbor going on her dog walks, for example—other activity follows the clock. Like kids coming home from school and people returning home from work. Right now, I'm seeing one group of neighbors in their routine and in a few months, it will be another, later group in their routines.
And then there's the changes with nature. As the leaves begin to pop, what I'm able to see of the sunset will change considerably over the coming months. Right now I get an eyeful through the branches, but soon I'll have less sky to observe. I may even be urged out of the neighborhood for more expansive views. But then I'll miss out on the unique rhythm that goes on where I live.
Years ago my thing was sunrises. For two years I watched the sun rise twice a week at a local park, but I didn't have the same experience as I'm having with sunsets. There, I had my back to the hustle and bustle of the world. And even if I didn't, all there was to see was a blur of cars whizzing by on the Parkway. So while the sunrises were all different, the rhythm was usually the same.
Also, Daylight Savings Time keeps sunrise times more consistent than sunset times. So the sun might rise between, say 5:45 at one end of the spectrum and 7:30 at the other end. With sunsets, the times span from 4:45 to 9pm—about twice the range of time in which to observe the life that happens around the sun's show.
What I have noticed from these practices, however, is that nature's circadian rhythm follows the sun while much of our own rhythms follow the clock. One interesting observation I've had recently is that the first chirp of morning birds coincides nearly perfectly with the sensors on the street lamp behind my house. When the street lamp goes to sleep, the birds awake (though both are taking their cues from the angle of the sun.)
Last week I made a post about the data we've left behind because of technological convenience. This is sort of the same thing. Work starts at 9 whether the sun rises an hour before or three hours before. And it ends at 5, whether the sun has already set or won't set for another four hours. But if we, as animals, are tuned to the rhythms of the sun (and we are), they we're keeping "unnatural" schedules.
Ancient man, who didn't avail themselves so much to artificial light, kept a very different sleep and work pattern than we do (called segmented sleep.) They went to bed much earlier. Woke for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. Then went back to bed. They still got 8 hours, but in two four-hour bursts. Then with the advent of street lamps and affordable artificial light, things changed.
The move away from segmented sleep is blamed for everything from stress to addiction to obesity among modern man. If you look into the science of circadian rhythm and the hormonal and physiological nuances of how it all works, you begin to see why. Further, when you wake in the middle of the night and curse it as insomnia, what's really happening is that your body is trying to get into rhythm. But modern life doesn't allow that.
I've veered of course a little here, because what I really wanted to point out is all the different rhythms that go on...the rhythm of light and dark and all that comes with that, and the rhythm of schedules and time clocks and all that comes with them. Watching the sunset really points out the difference between the two and gives you a view of the unique rhythm of your immediate environment...the rhythm that you and your community keep. So far it has led to many interesting observations about neighbors and how I fit into this unique neighborhood.
What it comes down to, however, is that whether it's the rhythm of earth wobbling on its axis or of people tied to the clock or of our body's cycles of sleep and waking, we don't think too much about our rhythms and how they fit into the bigger picture. But there's a lot of information there, not just for knowing who you are as a person, but for understanding how you work as an animal and the choices you make as to which rhythms you move within at any given time. Being attuned to your rhythms and the ones around you could be key to waltzing more gracefully through the dance of life.