© 2023 University of Missouri - KBIA
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Time, The Seasons, And An Aloe Vera Plant


This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills. I wonder how many of us are aware that we have a clock for tracking the progression of the seasons somewhere inside our house or sometimes even in our workplaces. Well, it’s not one with actual hands, and certainly not digital. But we can make it so if we’re willing to perform an activity that would certainly get the kids in trouble.

It’s this. Imagine this little watery, rocky ball we live on that we call earth. Bear with me. This is as cosmic as we’ll get. As it rotates around its axis and spins around the sun, it gets tipsy. That axis wobbles, causing its north and south poles to rock back and forth. This causes a number of things, including the reason why the anyone living near the North Pole, for instance, experiences a day that is all daylight for 24 hours at the summer solstice and likewise near to total darkness for 24 hours at the Winter solstice. The same, but opposite effect is experienced at the South Pole.

That same wobble also gifts us with the seasons, from the heat and humidity of summer to the cold and dark of winter. But maybe wobble is the wrong word, for it implies instability, and nothing could be more reliable than this timepiece. We know to the day and hour when each season arrives and departs, whether the effects are all that noticeable or not. And yet, unless we’re a meteorologist, we do not have a timepiece to record and then mention to us the event. Sure, we have a calendar, but it only marks the four quarters, the solstices and the equinoxes. For the rest we’re left to our own devices.

Actually, that’s probably what started me thinking about all this, as we approach the autumn equinox, here in the Ozarks and all over the planet. But what brought it to my mind was my Aloe plant. Some years ago, I was gifted with a large and flourishing plant of Aloe Vera. It’s a desert native and the juice from its succulent leaves is about as handy and effective an example of burn ointment as you’d ever find in nature. It has soothed many a sunburn as well as those “owies” one gets when removing a casserole from the oven without proper protection. But the most convenient, as well as the only, place for it to live in my house was in the west window of the bathroom. Well, actually, it’s on the countertop next to the west window, not in the window itself. So, it is continually reaching out to grab even the slightest splash of sunlight. Because the sun, as it continues its north to south and back movement is always shining in a different place on the opposite wall and is therefore sometimes abundant and sometimes entirely out of reach. I’ve positioned the plant, so its largest and farthest-reaching leaves can reach nearly halfway across the window and its base is literally teetering on the brink of the countertop. If one chances to be washing hands or brushing teeth in the late afternoon on a sunny day, one can almost feel the frustration as the plant does everything it can to reach out farther and farther for the ever diminishing lifegiving solar energy as the sun edges farther and farther north relative to the earth’s surface in autumn.

This year, I’ve decided to give the poor thing a break, or at least what I hope will work, and get myself a timepiece for the seasons while I’m at it.

Here’s my plan. You’ve seen those mirrors that are made to attach to a wall, usually in a bathroom, and are held by a kind of accordion thing that lets you move the mirror to about anywhere you might want it. I guess it’s for applying cosmetics while standing, or some other arcane use. But what I’m going to do is attach it to the opposite wall from the Aloe, the wall that the sunshine drifts across as it shines in from the west in the late afternoon, tracing its ephemeral path north to the winter solstice, and then south again as it heads its slow, almost unnoticeable way toward summer. But first I have to see where it goes. There’s no way to decide the proper height of the mirror without first noting the path of the sun. And this is the part that kids shouldn’t try on their own without clearing it with a parent. After all, one of the first thing most of us learn is not to mark on the wall. There is that little spot somewhere in a door jamb where mom or dad marks how tall you’re growing, but for the rest, it’s a no-no.

But surely you can make the case for this project. After all, you’re building a clock. Now people sometimes chide me for things just such as this, claiming that when they ask what time it is, I tell them how to build a watch. I’m a glutton for details, for the odd little pieces that go into how and why things work. But this is really cool. I’m going to take a very fine-tipped pen, and every day for the next couple weeks I’m going to mark where the sun hits the wall opposite the aloe plant, and record what day that happened. And in two weeks I should have a timeline that I can extend outward and thus chart the path that the mirror must follow in order to shine sunlight onto the aloe plant, letting it finally grow upright instead of reaching its juicy green arms farther and farther, pleading for just one more drop of daylight before the long dark. And I can clock.

You can call it Ozark Ingenuity or Hillbilly Gumption if you like. But come the solstice, I’m gonna see sunshine, one way or another, on my gracious and generous green friend, and be in touch with every tick of that clock, and it’s gonna make me smile. This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozarks Hills, celebrating the days leading up to the Autumnal Equinox. Thanks for listening.

Copyright 2021 KSMU. To see more, visit KSMU.

Marideth is a Missouri storyteller, veteran journalist, teacher, author, musician and student of folklore focusing on stories relevant to Ozarks culture and history. Each month, she’s the voice behind "These Ozarks Hills.” Sisco spent 20 years as an investigative and environmental writer for the West Plains Quill and was well known for her gardening column, “Crosspatch,” on which her new book is based. Sisco was a music consultant and featured singer in the 2010 award-winning feature film “Winter's Bone.”