Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Vernal equinox

My house at Gamone looks eastwards onto a vast half-circle of cliffs, which means that, throughout the year, I'm particularly conscious of the changing spot on the horizon where the morning sun first pokes its nose up above a cliff. Today is the vernal equinox: the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. This morning, the sun appeared over the distant cliffs at the far end of the valley of the Bourne, directly in front of my house, and it had more than enough room to rise in the sky without hiding behind the Cournouze. The only problem is that the weather has remained so overcast today that I didn't see much of the sun at all.

Since settling down at Gamone, I've realized retrospectively that the evolving itineraries of the sun, and even the existence of the seasons, were aspects of the environment of which I was totally unconscious during my adolescence in Australia. I believe that my only vague awareness of the points of the compass was due to the fact that I grew up in a town named South Grafton, so I concluded that the place called Grafton no doubt lay to the north.

Unfortunately, in the pre-Alpine region of the Vercors, the night sky is invariably cloudy, which means that it's not an ideal place for star-gazing. I'm not at all sure that Galileo, if he had lived here at Gamone, would have got around to inventing the telescope. Worse than that, in view of the massive nature of the cliffs around the Circus of Choranche, it's not at all unlikely that Galileo would have carried on believing that these gigantic walls of stone remain stationery, and that the sun actually does the moving, gliding over the top cliffs. That's how it looks to me.

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