[This is for December 21st, but as I will be unable to post it on that day (due to the activity described), it’s here now.]
If you have any sense, you will be in bed. It’s dark outside, and freezing cold, and the sun is nowhere to be seen—a perfect time to burrow deep under the covers and dream sweetly. Winter will soon be upon us.
I, however, am hunched outside in the predawn wind, comforting myself with hand-warmers, and waiting. The dark here in the high desert of New Mexico is absolute, allowing not a single hue of life. My tripod is deployed, camera and shutter release ready, checked a dozen times at least–but I check once more to ease the waiting. Slowly, darkness begins to lift, and the sky tries on a soft grey coat. A few more minutes, and it will be here: solstice.
The ancient ones who lived here, in now-ruined Chaco Canyon, were attuned to celestial phenomena and observed them carefully. Winter solstice, heralding the sun’s return and the gradual lengthening of days, was particularly crucial. Pueblos, kivas, and rock art were aligned to mark it, letting the sun-watchers know the seasons had begun to turn. The order of the universe was recorded in movements of light and shadow throughout their landscape. I’m here to help the rangers document these movements, hoping to glimpse a piece of what the ancients knew so well.
Today, we have calendars, cell phones, and computers to tell time for us, and no longer need to scrutinize the sky for clues about the world. We know the sun will return, and with it light and warmth, without having to look up—or even go outside. Yet our connection to the solstice is not lost completely: we may not know it, but our winter holiday traditions are rooted in the sun’s emergence from the longest night.
Sometime today, go outside and look up at the sky. Feel the thin rays of the winter sun as it is reborn into a new season, and give thanks.