Dark Mornings


Last updated 2/27/2024 at 10:40am

When I was a little girl, I watched my older brother trudge up our driveway in the black of night. My mom was making breakfast; my brother carried a flashlight. Peering up over the kitchen sink, through the orange and green drapes, I watched his glowing light bob through the trees, up the steep hill to the bus stop.

I was excited that someday I, too, would get to go to real school. I, too, would get to carry a flashlight and wander off into the darkness! That must be what life felt like for a Big Kid.

Back then in Oregon, kindergarten was a half-day affair. When I finally started, my mom walked me up to the bus stop around noon. As first grade wore into second, I walked up the driveway for the early bus, just like my brother — but for some reason it was never all that dark.

I didn’t think about it much. I had other things to contemplate: Trying to climb as high in the poplar tree as my brother; wading in the stream, in my red rubber boots; a new friend down the road who liked to roller-skate and make intricate rooms in her beautiful, hand-hewn dollhouse.

There were Brownie badges to earn, piano lessons to practice for, Bible verses to memorize, cookies to bake, dogs to feed, horse stalls to clean out. It was many years before I started to wonder about that memory of my brother in the driveway. Was it even real?

As an adult, I asked my mom. Why did he carry a flashlight? Why didn’t I?

That memory was real, my mom said. It had only happened for one year. As now, most Americans back then moved their clocks back and forth twice a year, from Daylight Savings Time (DST) to Standard Time (ST).

The USA tried permanent DST for one year, 1974. The argument for this experiment: it would save fuel during the oil crisis. Year-round, “permanent” DST had helped save fuel during World War II.

Around the time my brother made his journey up the hill, several children in Eastern cities were struck by cars while walking to school in the dark. This made for sad, dramatic news; politicians struck out against permanent DST.

“The factual picture was a bit more complicated,” according to the Washingtonian. The National Safety Council reported that pre-sunrise fatalities had only risen to 20 from 18 the year before — small consolation to the families whose children were killed or injured.

The Federal Energy Administration noted that the 1 percent energy saving achieved by year-round DST equated to 20,000-30,000 tons of coal not being burned each day. Afternoon car accidents decreased as well. But permanent DST was on its way out, along with President Nixon.

These days the idea of permanent Standard time — not DST — has gained popularity. Morning walks would be blessed with more sunshine, and we’d end the back-and-forth clock-setting dance.

Abruptly changing schedules is difficult for many people, including those with insomnia or mood disorders, not to mention anyone trying to keep a baby, child, pet, or livestock on a consistent schedule. Health experts, especially sleep researchers, aren’t keen on it.

Interestingly, switching to full-time DST would reduce some people’s freedom to practice their religion. State Senator and medical doctor Elizabeth Steiner of Portland noted that switching to year-round, permanent Standard Time — not DST — would promote public health and religious freedom, according to the Oregon Capital Insider. Some adherents of Judaism and other religions are required to recite morning prayers after sunrise.

Sen. Lynn Findley of Vale represents great stretches of Eastern Oregon, including areas on Mountain time rather than Pacific time. He also supported a draft of the bill to go on permanent Standard time. Other legislators opposed the bill, worrying that it would be too difficult for Oregonians to sync up with people in California and Washington if we switched and those states did not.

As of this moment, the Oregon Senate is looking at a compromise: rather than switching right away and hoping other states catch up, we could add a “trigger clause.” Oregon would only end the DST switcheroo when Washington and California finally get on board.

Yes, please. Better a compromise than a big nothing.

Will I ever get to trudge up the driveway in the pitch dark, carrying a clunky 1970s flashlight, to catch the school bus? Doubtful. I am willing to part with that dream if it means we can be done with the twice-yearly nonsense of changing clocks and disrupting our lives.

I have other things to do: helping out my older parents with my brother; baking sourdough bread; sharing original songs with Sisters women, our guitars resting while we eat delicious soup; watching the herd of deer outside my window as they nudge aside the snow, nibbling on the first signs of spring.


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