Landscape Astronomy: I Am Standing HERE!!!

There are uncountable numbers of canyons that cut through the Colorado Plateau and thousands of them are safeguarded by Anasazi villages abandoned nearly a millennia ago. At the height of their culture the Anasazi built the breathtaking wonder of Chaco. But with all of its sophisticated astronomical splendor I actually prefer something far more personal that the Anasazi taught me: line of sight astronomy.

Deep in Frijoles Canyon is an Anasazi village, today called Bandelier named after the man who decades ago re-discovered it. I have always been drawn to it with its cliff dwellings high above the characteristically Anasazi complex complete with numerous kivas. The place is alive with ancestors and the haunting sensation that ancient hunters dressed in skins and carrying bows still hunt the spirits of animals across the sweeping tabletop landscapes high above the village.

It didn’t take long before my attention was captured by those magical heights and I began to sit high above the village and watch the sun travel across the sky. The view was heart-stopping, the panorama a real taste of the meaning of infinity. Millions of years ago vast basalt ridges were nearly buried beneath thousands of feet of volcanic ash but their peaks still thrust skyward. In time I was able to anticipate events such as solstices and equinoxes by the sun’s position to those peaks. I have no doubt that the people who built their village in Frijoles knew the precise day when to plant corn or hunt turkey by making the very same observations and perhaps even on the same spot where I stood. Every notch, every peak of that skyline held a secret key to a successful and creative people. And I have absolutely no doubt that every single Anasazi village followed its very own line of sight calendar.

Each of us can do exactly the same thing in our own backyards, off our balconies, even just looking out our apartment windows. Don’t be put off by your neighbor’s house or an unsightly utility pole. What you are seeing is either a landscape or a skyscape where you too can make note of similarly holy days such as the quarter and cross-quarter dates. Make a sketch of that horizon as it appears from where you are standing. Then pick whichever you prefer, sunset or sunrise, and mark an auspicious day on your sketch. Always stand precisely on the same spot, mark the floor if you must. In one year, the solar annum, you will have become an observational astronomer. You might even come to understand the full beauty of Einstein’s theory of relativity on a deeply personal level. And you will also bring back the memories of your most ancient ancestors because their lives were indeed lived relative to their observations. This calendar will become uniquely yours and can include days that are special only to you or even cosmic events that only you might have witnessed. You may even find yourself hungering to render a lunar calendar in much the same way. But remember, the moon’s journey takes 18.6 sun years. That takes devotion! But imagine how incredible it would be.

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