Thursday, January 10, 2008

How to See a Year

The sun also rises, and the sun goes down
And hastens to the place where it rises.

—Ecclesiastes 1:5

Once, in New Mexico, I stood in a Navajo hogan and noted its celestial geometry: the door, a perfect East, windows North and South, and the smoke hole, straight to the heavens; bare earth the floor that joins and complements all. The house of the six directions, as they say in that part of the world. We remain, for the most part, encapsulated in only four. But, like the Navajo, I am fortunate. Through no foresight of my own, my door faces East, and I am treated to a spectacle of light.

Sometime, long ago, allegedly primitive peoples developed sophisticated calendars and cosmologies. I always wondered how, without instruments or physics classes, they were able to figure out all that complexity. The Mayans even predicted eclipses thousands of years away. We, in our more advanced cultures, can't see the year without a calendar, nor tell time without a clock.

It requires only time to look, and willingness to focus beyond the press of other daily commitments, to begin to open consciousness to these events around us. At last, I've begun to understand the Sun's journey, internally, and can chart its path across my life. When we slow life down to the larger rhythms, we begin to sense what's really going on with the world. Time is another direction, the seventh apparently, but as we wander through it, we rarely get to see it, even though we eventually feel the effects of its passage.

Occasionally rising early to greet the dawn, as tribal people here did every morning, I have an opportunity to observe the calendar outside my door. A friend says I've reinvented Stonehenge, as perhaps I have. Outside my eastern window lies a low ridge—the hogback, Mt. Glennon. About two miles long and rising 500 feet above its surroundings, it forms my eastern horizon. On its ragged edge I can see the rising Sun's location and track its journey through the seasons. Its southern limit, near the Turkey Creek water gap, and its northern limit at Bear Creek define the extremes of the seasons. On the fall equinox, the Sun rises in a notch midway down the ridge.

As the Sun swings back and forth, from one end of the hogback to the other, the years of my life, of all our lives, go by. Time has suddenly become measurable in a direct, personal fashion; more satisfying somehow that turning the pages of a calendar.

There are other ways, of course, to see the seasons. The fall pilgrimage to the mountains to check out the aspens may be the most obvious example. More subtly, more privately, you know, if you watch the stars at all, that as summer leaves us, you must forgo the sight of Scorpio hanging on the southern horizon and begin to get reacquainted with Orion instead.

We can reset our daily clock to the natural rhythms as well. Here in the valley behind the hogback, we live on a slightly different schedule than does the rest of the Front Range. With the hogback on one side and the foothills on the other, our days are just a little shorter than they are elsewhere. The Sun rises a few minutes later than the weatherman says it will and sets just a trifle earlier. Perhaps this helps us, as the sky is already light when the Sun actually comes up over the hogback. Or perhaps it deprives us of the more spectacular sunrises over the eastern plains. If we begin to cool off a few minutes earlier on a hot summer evening, we also have marginally longer winter nights. If we get to track the sunrise against our eastern ridge, urban residents can as easily track the sun setting on the foothills.

No matter where we are, the opportunities to observe and to learn surround us; they simply take different forms. The Spirit of every Place waits to inform us; we have only to listen.

Originally written 1988.

No comments: