The Washington Post

Light and heat

Light and heat. I’ll do light today. The winter is dark. People think of winter as snow, or used to when there was such a thing, but really it’s darkness. Some people apparently don’t mind darkness. They can look out the window at 4:30 in the AFTERNOON, and see NIGHTTIME OUT THERE, and think, that’s fine, I’ll just turn on this lamp here. I live with a person like that. I am not a person like that.

I look out the window at 4:30 in the afternoon and see nighttime out there and I think THIS IS CRAZY, or at least it’s making ME crazy. Because it’s not just a matter of light. It is what the lack of it is TELLING ME. I will go out on a limb of evolutionary psychology and speculate on precisely what the lack of light is telling me. I am of mostly northern European descent, and I think my ancestors may have evolved brains that interpret the lack of light to be a message. The message is YOU ARE ABOUT TO DIE. The full message is You are about to die if you are not really careful and store up a lot of food and build a shelter and fix the roof and get some warm clothes and check that food supply again and don’t go out unless you really need to go badly, and if you do go out carry a weapon like an unplugged lamp because the mastodons will try to eat you and you might slip on the frozen ground and slide all the way down into the river which is really cold and it will carry you under the ice and far away, and well, you get the idea.

How are you supposed to wipe away a hundred thousand years of mental programming by just switching on a lamp? But today this doesn’t matter. Because all of this is merely prelude to my personal celebration of Midwinter Day, January 10th. On this date, you will observe, if I tell you to, and if it is clear out, that the sun is noticeably higher in the sky now, and not just bumping along across the horizon for a few hours each day like it was in December. The mood lifts, the food supply starts to look like it may last until spring, and joy starts refilling the heart. That’s the light part of the light and heat story. Humanity is screwing up the heat part pretty badly. More on that tomorrow.

Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post and writes the Tom Toles blog. See all of his cartoons here.


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