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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter Solstice

Tyuonyi Village Sunrise
Winter and Bandelier National Monument will always be linked in my psyche. My first winter season at the Monument was extraordinary. I recall seeing more stars in the New Mexico sky than I had ever witnessed in my entire life and even more amazing than the star gazing was watching winter solstice sunrise.

The winter solstice is always a special time at Bandelier National Monument. Every year Ranger Chris Judson leads an early morning walk to the Ancestral Pueblo village of Tyuonyi. Participants watch as the first rays of winter sun spill directly into the ancient village. I marvel at the perfect alignment of the sun’s ray and village entryway. The Ancestral Pueblo were a farming culture. They understood the relationship between lengthening daylight and their survival. In this land where the growing season does not leave room for error it is important to know the progress of the season. Was this village intentionally oriented to serve as a calendar, marking the return of longer days? I pondered this thought as I celebrated sunrise along with the others who shivered in the cold beside me while listening to Chris honor Pueblo culture with a traditional poem. We may never have a definite answer to this question, but we were all are curious enough to stand witness on that special morning.

This year solstice was ushered in with a full lunar eclipse. The two events have not coincided since 1638.  What did the farming people of the southwest think, three hundred and seventy- two years ago, as they watched the full moon disappear in complete shadow on the longest day of the year?

This year the eclipse began 11:30 pm MST and finished three and a half hours later. The day of the eclipse several Bandelier visitors asked me whether we were having an eclipse-watching program. I smiled and told them I would be sleeping during the event. But would I? It will be 94 years before another full lunar eclipse will occur on the winter solstice. Would I really choose sleep through a once in lifetime experience? Probably not. The more I thought about the eclipse the more my sense of wonder grew. The eclipse would be a reminder of our place and relationship between sun and moon. I did get up that night. It was a beautiful show.

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