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Poor Will's Almanack: December 20 - 26, 2016

A recent visit to Serpent Mound in southern Ohio reminded me about the astronomical skills of ancient peoples. At intervals throughout the serpent-shaped structure, the mound builders had constructed sites from which they apparently observed the spring and autumn equinoxes, the winter and summer solstices, the farthest distance of sunrise and moonrise north in the summer, south in the winter.

The simple genius of Serpent Mound is its demonstration that an immobile watchtower is what establishes the borders of time. The observatory tames the universe and gives it order. With a fixed locus of perspective, what occurs in the sky is reflected and seen below. And within that ordered structure, any number of events in nature and society might be placed and recorded, creating history within carefully crafted space.

A private observatory of one’s own living space might affirm some astronomical lessons of the mound builders. Paying attention – even casually – to the position of the sun and moon at different times of day and year, perhaps recording the motion of a shadow across a wall or the intrusion of the moon or sunshine through windows, at once creates a connection to the motion of the planet, by-passes social time keepers, establishes personal borders, re-consecrates space, offers a new container for the observer’s history.

Abandoning digital freedom and modern mobility, a person might rediscover what it means to live here, learn to be at home and watch the galaxy.

This is Bill Felker with Poor Will’s Almanack. I’ll be back again next week with notes for the final week of early winter. In the meantime, from your living room or bedroom window, set up your observatory.

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