Prof. Jennifer Finney Boylan Discusses Daylight Savings Time

Prof. Jennifer finney boylan discusses daylight savings time


Jennifer Finney Boylan is a professor of English at Barnard College of Columbia University and a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her most recent book is “Mad Honey,” co-written with Jodi Picoult.

The school bus stopped in front of our house, and my daughter clomped down the steps, lugging her three-quarter size tuba. Thick snow drifted down from the dark sky. I clicked on my flashlight, and together we began the long walk up the driveway, a voyage that at the time seemed not unlike Capt. Scott’s 1912 trek to the South Pole.

It was a December afternoon, in Maine.

The days are short everywhere at this time of year, but Mainers are certain that we bear a heavier burden than those of you who live in the “Lower 47.” The sun — which rises before 5 in June — doesn’t show up now until after 7 a.m. It hangs there, low in the sky, for a few hours — and then starts to disappear.

The reason for all of this is, in part, how far north we are. The punishing, dark winter followed by the glorious, all-too-short summer is a fact of life if you’ve made your life in Maine.

But there’s another reason for our dark afternoons: Eastern Standard Time.

Because it’s important to be on the same time as Boston, New York and Washington, we are in the Eastern time zone. But there are days — like now — when we wonder whether it really makes sense for us to be in the same time zone as, say, Indianapolis.

Every few years, one of our legislators proposes that Maine move to Atlantic time, the same time zone used by Nova Scotia and Qaanaaq, Greenland. The most recent initiative, proposed in 2019, would have essentially given us daylight saving time year-round.

The measure failed. These measures always fail. The one before that, in 2017, passed the state House but died in the Senate. That one was a little more tenuous; it held that Maine would join Atlantic time only if Massachusetts and New Hampshire did so, too; it also required a statewide referendum. None of that happened.

Darkness isn’t just an issue for Mainers. This year the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill to make daylight saving time permanent. The legislation stalled in the House.

Jonah Ryan, the vice president in HBO’s “Veep” — who had made opposition to daylight saving a centerpiece of his presidential campaign — released a triumphant real-world statement after the Senate’s action. “Our long national nightmare and daymare is over,” he said. “No longer will innocent Americans show up hours late or hours early to their jobs, their J-dates or their court-ordered counseling appointments for weeks on end just because of the whims of ‘Big Clock.’”

But in Maine, the resistance to Atlantic time is not a joke. Nor is it a refusal to remember that Americans hated permanent daylight saving time when we tried it in 1974. The reason we can’t secede from Eastern time is that Mainers, fundamentally, don’t want to think of themselves as having more in common with Nova Scotia than Florida.

And yet. With everything that has happened to American politics since 2016, Nova Scotia has started to look pretty good to me.

Would it be so wrong, I sometimes wonder, if, instead of being one of the northernmost states in the Union, we were one of the southernmost provinces of Canada?

In that new world, Maine might become Canada’s Florida, the “Sunshine Province.” Perhaps the antics of a “Maine man” could provide moments of online hilarity for Canadians.

Yes, I know this is a fantasy. Maine is about as likely to join Canada as Jonah Ryan was to become president.

But these short days are not without their charms. When the snow flies, I like to build a big fire and lie on the couch, reading a book. My wife makes things in the slow-cooker: chocolate chili, pulled pork, Irish stew with parsnips and Guinness and Maine maple syrup.

At night the world is absolutely silent, except for the occasional scrape of the plow guy’s truck as he works his way down our dirt road.

These are the days when I’m reminded that, even at 64, I am not without resilience. “In the midst of winter,” Albert Camus once wrote, “I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. No matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.”

My daughter gave up the three-quarter size tuba more than a dozen years ago. She and her brother are in their late 20s now. One of them lives outside Boston, the other in Ann Arbor, Mich. It breaks my heart, how infrequently I get to see them, now that they are grown.

But on this, the shortest day of the year, they are coming home. There is a tree in my living room covered with lights. There’s a star at the top.

Our shadows are long. So is the story of our lives together.

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