Two Degrees

By Alan Rossman

June 19, 2017

Two Degrees

I had to look it up in my old physics notebook, exhumed from its tomb of an ancient cedar chest and kept all these years as a talisman for time travel that the Internet could never touch. There it was, just as Mr. Mitchell taught us; the method for measuring the solar elevation angle. My notes show that on December 21, the angle is the lowest of the year at 24.6 degrees. By the third Monday of February, the angle is 26.7 degrees, an increase of a measly two degrees.

I can still feel the insignificance of those two degrees sloughing off the shoulders of my teenage indifference. For despite all his lectures, Mr. Mitchell never taught us the meaning of two degrees. He never let us feel how those two extra degrees could warm your face and kindle your heart or loosen the rust that had been building around your joints all winter long. He never tilted our imaginations to the ripening that was happening all around us as swelling buds grew fat and turgid under the power of those two additional degrees and a groundswell brewed beneath our feet. He failed to fan our wonder at how different our world looked with softening shadows and growing incandescence that suddenly stretched from the morning bus ride to the end of soccer practice or stoke our curiosity about what magic might be loosed by the two degrees that follow. Those were lessons we were left to learn on our own.

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