A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fourteenth Way of Looking at a Blackbird

Every year
At the summer solstice sunrise
The blackbird perches on the tallest stone.


The Sun Stands Still

Today--at 12:33 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time--is the moment of the summer solstice. The sun is at its greatest distance from the celestial equator; at the Tropic of Cancer, it's at the zenith. Today is the longest day of the year; tonight is the shortest night. In other words, it's the beginning of summer.

"Solstice" means literally "the sun standing still" (from the Latin "sol" + "sticium"). From our perspective here on Earth, it is a standstill. The sun's annual cycle in changing sunrise direction behaves like a pendulum. The sunrise direction changes more rapidly near the equinoxes--the first days of spring and fall--and more slowly at the solstices--the first days of summer and winter.

This is the view of the sun rising over the tallest stone in the Amherst, Massachusetts sunwheel during this summer's solstice. Dr. Judith Young, who conceived the sunwheel, sees it as "a symbol of the connection between our modern society and our past." Fortunately for us Massachusetts residents, the National Science Foundation agreed with her.

Perhaps one day I'll get to Stonhenge or Callanish to see the same sight over stones erected 5,000 years ago. I'm sure that the history adds to the mystery. The Amherst sunwheel, only eight years old, is nevertheless pretty special. The granite from which the stones were quarried is billions of years old; the sun, moon, and stars are the same from everywhere. Except for their locations in the sky...which is what the sunwheel is designed to show us.