A Solstice Year


I’ve been reading House of Rain: Tracking A Vanished Civilization Across The American Southwest by Craig Childs. It’s what it sounds like, a sort of travel journal blended with archeological research on the elusive Anasazi civilization. Elusive isn’t the right word. These are people that left roads, temples, full cities carved into the land in a very obvious way. I pulled up photos and North America has what looks like Castle ruins just as old as anyone else’s. What?? Why was I not taught about this in Elementary school?

Beyond single site construction, this civilization may have even shaped the topography of their environment into a system of artificial mounds and natural landforms in a vast network of signal stations, allowing rapid communication over vast distances.

The more I read, the more incredulous I felt about their absence from North American curriculum. In all fairness, maybe I just missed them. I was raised in the Southeast. And I had heard of them, read about them in Jared Diamond’s Collapse, even kept a friend company in college as she attempted to catalog and shelf countless reconstructed vessels for her museum practices credit. But I’ve never had as full a picture. And asking a few friends, nobody seemed too familiar with what I was reading about.

In Child’s book, he gives the analogy of trying to catch sight of a person passing back and forth the crack of a mostly shut doorway as the vision we have of the Anasazi.  They occupied the land in a much different way than western cultures do. They appear to have been inclined to inhabiting sites for eras, leaving for a generation or two, with an expectation that the land and climate would inevitably change and they would return or more likely their grandchildren would return to reoccupy the site.


While land sites shifted, their astronomical observations were keen and accurate.  They aligned their massive great houses and brick and mortar settlements to the moon, stars, and sun. Which brings me to solstice. In House of Rain Child visits Chimney Rock in Colorado, the site of a great house built more than a thousand years ago built, some believe, to be a lunar observatory as the brick and mortar construction has a site line that catches the moon rising in the center of two natural pillars on the winter solstice when the moon swings to its farthest point in its 18.6 year track. You can read details here.

With the Ancient Puebloans in mind, and winter solstice approaching, I reread some articles on other ancient sites like Newgrange, where massive construction was a marker for the light and the change of the year. In my own culture, the darkening always seemed incidental to the year change. It occurs and then a stutter step later, digital clocks and satellites alerting that another year has started. It’s so precise, we all stand together and count the exact seconds down. Then that new year is upon us in full force, and most of us seem to be suddenly jogging 5 miles in icy wind or carefully recording every dollar we spend.

I’ve found myself reveling in the idea of the year that doesn’t switch instantly, but is instead looked for as a birth is expected. It’s a beautiful idea to have the year begin in weakness, the days only briefly shining, the way a newborn baby only briefly rises to consciousness. In that spirit, if a year is born and grows in strength, maybe what we do in that year should also start out in a weak fumbling sort of way. Not in the instantaneous expectation of perfect change, but instead in an intention that grows and builds on itself.


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