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F-M residents make the most of extra sunshine on longest days of the year

Craig Phillips of Moorhead likes to get out golfing at 7 a.m. at the Meadows golf course in Moorhead because he's an early morning person and that there's always plenty of room in the parking lot. Dave Wallis / The Forum1 / 2
Fourteen-year old Duy Le, seen here Thursday, June 19, 2014, spends his summer nights at Island Park in Fargo practicing his skills. Nick Wagner / The Forum2 / 2

FARGO – Basketball makes Duy Le taller.

That’s what he hopes, anyway. At 5 feet 7 inches, the 14-year-old Vietnamese immigrant is far from tiny. But he still feels short for his age.

That’s part of the reason Le comes to downtown‘s Island Park every night, rests his backpack against a rusty fence and shoots hoops for hours.

The park lights eventually flick on to illuminate the half-court. But lately, Le has had plenty of daylight to practice.

Today marks the summer solstice, when the sun reaches its highest point in the sky and the Northern Hemisphere sees its longest day of the year.

Many Fargo-Moorhead area residents use the extra-long days surrounding the solstice to get outside at a time when the streets and skies are usually dark.

Le said he heads to Island Park about 9 p.m. every night.

“The light’s really cool at this time,” he said.

Le was part of a basketball league last year and wants to play for South High School when he enters his freshman year in the fall. He practices for three to four hours before heading home. The regimen may seem extreme, but he doesn’t mince words about why it’s necessary.

“Last year, I (did) really bad,” he said. “I only made six points in one season.”

It’s clear the practice is paying off. Shaded from the late Thursday light by Island Park’s trees, Le sinks more shots than he misses.

Island Park sees plenty of visitors like Le, even as news stations begin their nightly broadcasts.

Luke Diekman and Hannah Grundyson sat on the sidelines of a tennis court Wednesday, watching two friends trade forehands and volleys.

Diekman, a Fargo native, called Island Park the “finest in the city.” He said he frequently heads there after work for tennis or ultimate Frisbee.

Brutal Midwestern winters make it even more important to take advantage of long summer days, Grundyson said.

“You only get a couple months of epicness,” she said. “You have to be out 24/7.”

Solstice science

Grundyson, Diekman and Le were outside at twilight, the time after the sun has set but before it gets dark.

Some of the light during that time comes from clouds still reflecting the sun’s rays, said Jeff Makowski, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service station in Grand Forks.

While the summer solstice is typically described as the longest day of the year, that’s not always the case. The precise time of sunrise and sunset time varies around solstices, Makowski said, so it’s possible the day of a solstice won’t have the earliest sunrise and latest sunset.

Fargo, for example, will see 15 hours and 052 minutes of sun today. The sun actually spent an extra minute in the sky Thursday and Friday.

Williston will get 16 hours and 4 minutes of daylight, and sunrise and sunset there will come about half an hour later than in Fargo.

The farther west a city lies within a time zone, the more light it will get on any given day, Makowski said. Northern cities also get more daylight than southern ones.

And days don’t always immediately get shorter right after a solstice.

The sun rose around 5:30 a.m. for the past three weeks in Fargo, and it’ll stay that way well into July.

‘A beautiful game’

The long daylight of mid-summer isn’t just for night owls. It also gives extra light to early birds.

If he could, Craig Phillips would head to the golf course at sunrise.

The retired Moorhead man comes to the Meadows Golf Course, at 401 34th St. S. in Moorhead, every day about 6:45 a.m. – well before the course opens at 7:30.

“Basically, I’m a morning person,” he said.

Phillips, 68, plays mornings at Meadows every weekday except Tuesday, when he takes part in a night league.

“My wife said two times a day was too much,” he said.

Phillips has always been an early riser. Growing up in Connecticut, he used to deliver the Hartford Courant at 3:30 a.m., catch a bit more sleep and then head to school.

He said he likes golfing early because it leaves the rest of the day open. It also lets him take his time on the course because there’s no one playing behind him.

“Another advantage is you beat the heat,” he said.

The former elementary school physical education teacher met his wife at the University of North Dakota, which they both attended. They lived in Connecticut but returned to the Fargo-Moorhead area every summer, and Phillips said they knew that’s where they wanted to retire.

His family has an annual golf tournament they call BRAG: Brothers and Relatives Amateur Golf. A 30-year tradition, the family has held BRAG at the Meadows course in the past few years.

Phillips surveyed the empty course Friday morning, noting the serene weather. He said it’s hard to get frustrated with a bad shot when life is so good.

“It’s a beautiful game,” he said.