Telling Time by the Sun

“The dominant paradigm of farm life was the cycle: the recurrence of the days and seasons; the process of growth and reproduction. Hand-power technology did not deceive men into thinking they could overcome nature; their goal was to harmonize man’s needs with natural forces as best they could. The length of the working day, for example, was largely determined by the hours of sunlight. Candles and grease lamps were common but expensive, and the hearth’s flickering light was too dim for more than a little work after dark. So most work was largely confined to daylight: up and at work by dawn, nights for sleeping. And in keeping with this daily round, midwesterners told time by the movements of the sun, not the clock. There was a variety of time phrases so rich they nearly matched the clock in refinement; the hours before sunrise, for example, were distinguished thus: long before day, just before day,  just comin’ day, just about daylight, good light, before sunup, about sunup, and, finally, sunup. Each period of the day was similarly divided.”