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Leaping past Romans, Germans, swallows and buzzards

POSTED: February 26, 2012 1:00 a.m.

This year is leap year, which means we have an extra day on the calendar. It happens this week.

Leap years are necessary because the actual length of a year is 365.242 days. Every four years, we add a day to even things up. If we didn't, in a few centuries, Santa would come in the summer and you would freeze on your June beach vacation.

Julius Caesar, known to his close friends as "Juke," is the father of leap year. This all started in 45 B.C. Now, Juke didn't know that it was 45 B.C., because no one in his entourage had any idea about the timing of the forthcoming birth of Christ.

They did figure out that the 355-day calendar wasn't working out. Every second year, they would add a 22- or 23-day month.

Sosigenes, who was Juke's official astronomer, figured out that the 365-day calendar, with an added day every four years, would work.

Sosigenes, which is not a popular boy's name, used things like the moon phases to figure this out. He didn't have a computer or some other fancy electronic gadget. You get the picture that folks were guessing the calendar by the falling of the leaves or which side you found wooly worms on the trees of Rome.

It reminded me of Uncle Ike, a decorated veteran of World War II. Ike was a character and was one of the most street-smart fellows ever born on a country road.

I don't know if Ike joined the Army or was drafted, but he proudly served his country.

He didn't have much formal education, but that didn't matter during his experience in the Battle of the Bulge. In the distance, Ike could hear the Germans firing a large machine gun. He figured out how long it was taking them to reload and counted it out in his head. He advanced the troops during the silence and they eventually took out the enemy. He received a medal for this.

This story has nothing to do with leap year, but I felt obliged to share it.

There are some annual events that occur on an almost perfect timeline that I find rather interesting. Every year on March 19, the cliff swallows return to the mission at San Juan Capistrano in California. On Oct. 23, they fly 6,000 miles south and spend the winter in Goya, Corrientes, Argentina.

Each year, on March 15, the buzzards return to Hinckley, Ohio.

Hinckley is just outside of Cleveland. If I was flying and had the choice between Hinckley and Cleveland, I‘d choose Hinckley. It sounds like a nice place. According to the website, they recently sought nominations for citizen of the year and are having a day in April where folks can bring documents to be shredded.

Before that, the whole town will turn out to welcome back the buzzards, which in some circles are not a very welcomed bird.

So there you have my take on leap year and anomalies that take place each year. I hope you enjoy your extra day. I'm likely to spend at least a part of mine writing another column that will appear seven normal days after this one.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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