Here we are. This is our home. We call it a “planet,” a word we took from the Greek, ἀ στέ ρές πλἀνῆ τἀι, meaning “wandering star.”
Our planet is not really wandering about, of course. Like kids afraid of the dark, we are staying close to Daddy sun, going round and round him, basking in his warmth and light. It’s kind of cute, really. Round and round and round. In roughly 365 days we are passing the place we were passing 365 days ago. That’s called deja vu. “I could swear I’ve been here before.”
Actually, we’re not really going round and round. We’re kind of swinging out in an elliptical orbit, like a girl dancing the jitterbug. At roughly 67,000 miles per hour. WHEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Now, while we are doing the jitter bug round and round the sun, we are simultaneously spinning like a ballerina at about 1038 miles per hour. WHEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Which may explain why we earth children go stumbling around a lot, and are always wondering where the day went. (Actually, we have been milling about the earth in varying degrees of confusion for as long as we can dimly remember.)
In June, we swing in our elliptical orbit the farthest from the sun, and in January, we swing in a bit closer. So why are we warmer in June and colder in January? All of us aren’t.
See, the planet is tilted, at about a 23.5% angle. Those of us who live on the top half of the planet are tilted toward the sun in the summer, so even though we are a little farther away, we get the full force of the sun in our smiling faces.
Those who live on the bottom half don’t get as much sun in our summertime. They are cold and may be bad-tempered.
In our summertime on the top half of Earth, because we are tilted toward the sun or sort of bowing to it, the sun is looking down at the tops of our heads (as grownups do). A long, long time ago we decided that the first day of summer would be the day that the sun was exactly, precisely, directly above us. This year that day will be June 20.
After June 20, we are on our way around to the other side of the sun, whirling out like a dancer leaning away from her partner, and as the light of the sun sort of slides down toward the southern hemisphere, it seems to us that the sun itself is moving lower in the sky.
Of course, the sun is constant, for if it moved, if our position in relation to the sun were altered in any way, we would either be as lost as puppies in the dark woods, or consumed in Daddy’s love. The sun is still there, but our days are growing shorter and shorter and we drive home from work listening to sad songs about the end of summer and lost love.
Ah but now, the faces of the earthlings who live on the bottom half of the planet are turning up to the sun and they are smearing on sun tan lotion and with wild laughter, throwing themselves into the sea. Frowning, we sit at our computers and watch them. Some of us say, “To heck with it,” and just fly down there where, with very big smiles, they charge us a lot of money for happy tropical beverages.
Riding around on this planet is pretty wild. Kind of wears on you, though. (That’s what they call “aging.”) But from the time we are new little kids to the time that we are old little kids, we seek out places to go where we can sit by ourselves and look at the sky we are twirling in and we think about things. Wondering, we lean back against the body of our tilted, whirling planet, and traveling round and round the sun, watching sunlight and shadow streaming across our hands, we try to understand. Why? What? Who?
Lifting our eyes from the horizon, gazing at the only half of the sky we can see from where we are sitting, we’re smart enough to know that what we can see is only half of what is. But that’s about as far as we’ve gotten with our thinking so far.
So finally, we shrug and slap our hands on our knees and groan our way to our feet and go home, hungry for supper, making plans for summer, which is coming up in a few more turns. Swing yore partner round and round.