Every 5th minute of latitude in the world or so, there could be an actively engaged and vibrant latitude circle of sister communities exactly and directly east and west of one another, connecting around the recognition that same line is same light, a uniquely shared experience on the planet for latitude communities, and a path way to bridging local communities globally.
Let’s back up. We know that latitude describes an east west line around the world, perpendicular to the world’s axis and tilt toward the sun. Therefore, on any particular latitude, any point on that east west latitude line will share the same daylength, and sunlight, each and every day, as any other point on that line. Let’s take the 43rd parallel of latitude in the Northern hemisphere, about halfway between the equator and the north pole. It courses across the North in the US, including Oregon, Wisconsin, Michigan, upstate NY, southern Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Northern Spain, Southern France, Central Italy, across Bulgaria, eventually Northern Japan, and a bunch of other places too. All those places, being in the northern hemisphere, get more sun in the summer, and much less in the winter, but the specific quantity of sun is the same for all these regions each and every day. If we go even further North, say to the 45th parallel, it means that these communities along the 45th will get even more sun in the summer months, and even less in the winter than the 43rd. We know that it generally gets colder in the winter months the further north you go. This is mostly influenced by sunlight, and the increasing lack thereof the further north in winter months, to the extreme of the sun never rising on the winter solstice for any latitude further north than the 66th parallel, 33rd minute- the Arctic Circle.
So if we step back and look at the world as a whole, for communities along the same latitude line, same daylength along same latitude broadly means similar seasons, similar rhythms, and perhaps similarly resonant impacts on culture, human society, and wildlife and plant life along the line, with some differences of course due to ocean currents, elevation, and broader regions of cultures as impacted by human history and the course of time. We can look at communities along the earth’s equator and see that they have something in common. We can look at the extremes of the arctic and antarctic circles and see similarities there. So it stands to reason that latitudes between the arctic and the equator are somewhere in between, depending on how far north or south. There’s a reason birds that breed in the colder parts of the northern hemisphere fly south for the winter, not east or west, generally. The black throated blue warbler is just one example. That because there’s more difference in climate and light to be found traveling north or south. The black throated blue warbler happens to travel from Vermont to Cuba, halfway between Vermont and the equator.
Conversely, human civilization spread more rapidly east and west, because it was easier for humans, already acclimated to a particular latitude, with the right seeds, livestock etc. to move along latitude line, then to a completely new latitude (thank you Jared Diamond, and Guns Germs Steel).
Now that we have considered broad similarities that communities along parallels of latitude share in terms of daylength and daylight, what if we were to get more specific?
So parallels of latitude- there are 90 in the northern hemisphere, and 90 in the southern hemisphere. These parallels are about 69 miles wide. Have you ever driven 70 miles directly north or south? There’s almost always a perceptible difference in climate, culture, everything! And in turn, if the daylength at summer solstice in the northern hemisphere is longest above the arctic circle, that same longest day is slightly shorter as you go south. Parallels of latitude are divided like time hours into minutes. There are 60 minutes of latitude in each latitude parallel. These minutes are about a mile wide. Manchester Vermont is on the 10th minute of the 43rd parallel in the Northern Hemisphere. Rutland Vermont, almost directly north of Manchester, is on the 35th minute of 43rd parallel. Both Rutland and Manchester are on the same parallel of latitude, but one is further north, and technically, Rutland’s summer solstice- the longest day of the year- will be slightly longer than Manchester’s.
In the grand scheme of things, Manchester and Rutland are on the same parallel-the 43rd- and there’s not a huge difference in sunlight and daylength each and every day of the year. That said, what if we were to look more closely at minutes of latitude, and see what they have in common. So what if we were to follow Rutland Vermont’s minute of latitude around the world, and Manchester’s? We know, as has been discussed above, that there is a slight difference between daylength between these two minutes of latitude, 43.10 N and 43.35 N. And from there we can infer that there is a unique set of points which share the same daylength of Manchester VT- all those on the 10th minute of the 43rd parallel, and a unique set of points that share something in common with Rutland- all those on the 35th.
And if we get into the specifics of a particular minute of latitude, and if we explore that minute, we suddenly find oursleves following a very specific pathway around the world, as if we have unrolled a thin kite string and walked with a compass directly east or west.
And here’s what’s beautiful about this. The narrow slice of the world along that string includes all kinds of people, places, ocean, wilderness, geography, slices of city, small towns, villages, farms and everything in between. The string we follow is a string into the world. The small, forgotten places. People and communities we may never have considered otherwise, with of course, some exciting discoveries along the way. And every place along that string experiences the same daylength each and every day, meaning if I were to sit with a time piece as the sunrises in Muskegon Michigan, and until it sets, this exact time, say 14 hours and 13 minutes, will be shared in Manchester Vermont, Henniker New Hamphire, or Camarinas Spain, or Porto San Giorgio, Italy. Yes in Manchester there are some big mountains that technically block parts of sunrise and sunset, but elevated geography aside, same latitude means same light, and more exact same latitude (the east west string theory) means exact more exact same light.
Minute of latitude presents us with a fascinating opportunity, to zoom out and see the world, and also zoom in at the same time. Zoom into the places that we wouldn’t consider otherwise, like Camariñas Spain.
East west string theory is in part the theory that exact latitude is a powerful ‘something in common’ for places and people directly east and west of one another, and a potential framework for a new kind of conscious connection for communities based on the simplicity of shared latitude line.
Minute of latitude is compelling because it is specific (a mile wide east-west stripe of earth) and creates a specific set of points around the world that share that minute. Minute of latitude makes the world much, much smaller, with 5,400 minutes in the northern hemisphere, and 5,400 in the southern hemisphere. A minute of latitude around the world, is more or less 1/10,000th of the world, but not exactly, because in fact some minutes of latitude are much longer than others (if we were to take the string from a minute of latitude around the equator, and if we were to take the string from a latitude close to the arctic, the string from the arctic would be much shorter).
But point is, a minute of the world is a slice of the world, a line to follow, and, actually, a circle. It is impossible not to spend a little time contemplating the potential of this, if each minute became it’s own kind of focus for communities along that line, to have conversations, to do cultural exchanges, to create bridges and goodwill, and who knows what other beautiful things, that this would not in some way change the world.
We have the tools to zoom in, we have the tools to connect, we have the tools to research and explore, but right now, the world is too big. And divisions and conflict and the overhwhelming issues of our day cloud our ability to understand and connect with our world. We need line.
Why not. There are so many projects focused on peace and cultural exchange, why couldn’t they adopt a latitudinal focus as part of their work.
Review- minute of latitude is significant as something that communities directly east and west of one another share. Minute of latitude can be a focus for people who want to bridge their local community with global communities, and is based on something already shared- a commons of shared sunlight and day-length every day.
Now, on to the 5th minute concept. One of the things I have been grappling with is how rigid this concept should hug an exact minute of latitude. And I have concluded that sometimes that specificity can be helpful, and sometimes it is not. In practical ways, there is some benefit to widening the scope, because there are extremely rural areas where towns do not conveniently locate themselves on my exact minute, but the region shares that minute, and the town is just a couple minutes south- Camariñas Spain is a great example. I think the solution is to highlight the strength of specificity, and encourage latitude in how other latitudes contemplate and develop their own latitude connections. With a recognition that sharing the exact same minute of latitude is something special, and to return to, but also recognizing that some communities may wish to have more wiggle room. I have found the fifth minute concept helpful to me. Generally, the idea is that I stick with a string that goes east and west around the world, but I can wander a few minutes to the north or south and still feel like I am honoring the idea of line. Based on my own navigations, I like giving myself about five minutes of wandering from a particular minute. That could be considered walking distance, a good doable hike to the north or south of a particular minute of latitude. So Dorset Vermont is about five minutes north of Manchester Vermont, both time driving and by latitude. Who cares? They are extremely close by to one another. And if the goal is bridge building, sometimes the practical aspects of bridge building is that we want bridges sufficiently wide for the traffic. We want some ‘bandwidth’ to work with, some wiggle room. As you go about your latitude project, you will see what I mean.
So stepping back to look at our world, and imagining maybe one latitude circle forming, say 43.10, and then another at 42.45 N, and one at 21.18 S (I am just pulling minutes out of a hat), we can then imagine that some of these latitude communities may be wider- sort of like a thicker rubber band, and some kind of specific like a thin band, and they begin to then multiply, with east west bands of different widths.
The communities which have the most latitude literacy tend to be along exact parallel lines. These are where you see latitude signs along roads. The 45th parallel, as in 45.o. 44.0. 43.0. And we have half parallels which are significant, such as the tropics- 23.5 N, and 23.5 S.
It would be logical to then start with communities along 45.0, 44.0 etc. as these communities share the most historical awareness of being on these exact parallel lines. But I think it is more powerful to understand that all minutes of parallel are significant, not just the 0’s, just like time. Are the only times which matter the exact hours? Bells sounding in towns certainly think so. But what about the minutes in between, the quiet ones. I am blurring time and latitude, but it’s not my fault that minutes are called minutes, and actually I love it and feed off it immensely as a creative prompt in my thinking. And rather than think of 43.10 as a subset of the 43rd parallel, just as we might think of 11:59 as a subset of the 11th hour of time, or think of 43.10 as even part of a larger subset of the Northern hemisphere, my preference would be to create latitude circles which feel complete within themselves, and then form sister partnerships with other latitude circles in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.
So 43.10 N could be a subset of 43.10 North and South, and their half parallels- half way between themselves and the equator, which I should be able to calculate, and it appears that those would be 21.35 N (Camaguey, Cuba) and 21.35 S. That would be an amazing combination of specific communities organized in a framework way which could be eminated by other latitude circles and accomplish another aspect of this, which is creating north south bridges. Every latitude reaches out to its half latitude, going to the equator. The equator is special of course. So are the poles.
But every parallel is parallel to every other- so that’s beautiful, and there’s no limitation to what can be done. The thing is, when we get too big in our thinking, it also becomes more complicated.
I come back to a major inspiration for me- the CRAFT model of farmer training. It is the ultimate keep it simple model.
When we get too overwhelmed with all the possibilities, come back to the specific latitude line. Organize a simple potluck and send a few letters to east west neighbors!