We started at the UMass Sunwheel circa 6:15 pm. The clouds cooperated, beginning to clear an hour in advance of sunset. The wind was bitter, though: fortitude was required to make it through until the moon cleared the 7 degrees of forest obscuring the horizon in the East.
Dr. Judith Young from the Astronomy Department at UMass regaled the crowd (52 brave souls who stayed) with enlarged photos, anecdotes, history, and education. I was struck by the range of nuance embedded in the careful alignment of static stone with the motions of our solar system. In particular, I learned of the Callanish Stones for the first time. Dr. Young showed some pictures and explained the presence of an “extra” stone that – if one stands just right – creates a visual notch with the stone next to it that outlines the precise location on the horizon where the summer solstice sunrise occurs. “They found,” she said, “a way to let us know.”
Hmmm, a way to know – what? If there is a message in these stone circles, what might it be? Was there an active intent to leave a sign that would invite us to wonder? What would people from four or five millennia ago want to convey to us, their descendants in a future as dim to them as their present is removed in a distant past? I considered these questions: they want us to know there is another mode of perception. They want us to remember that scientific measurement with all its technical specificity is not the only way to apprehend life. (My conviction was profound in the moment. Some hours later, I imagine that the possibilities of their intended meanings range beyond imagination, yet in this time – our time, now – this meaningfulness jumped into consciousness.)
I missed parts of the lecture walking around taking photographs and whispering with friends, still – the qualities of the equinox that I did learn struck me as propitious. Were there four? Equal lengths of night and day, sun (and moon?) rising and setting due east and west, sun directly above the equator, and . . . well. At the moment I heard the list I thought, this is exactly how I need to go about my upcoming research. (When I told Anne the good news she described it as “impossibly cool!” “I know!” I hollered.)
Just-in-Time and I spoke about the need for evenness in one’s emotional life as we drove from the Sunwheel to the apartment for soup. Suppose 80% of your emotional experience is “okay,” 10% is elation, and 10% is all the other stuff? That 80% takes in a lot, eh? It’s good! Is such a spread worth the highs of the high and the lows of the low? “Hey, maybe I’ve already done my ten percent? Five years or so of the lows….finished! It’s out of my system! Been there, done that!”
Option B: Clean, Dry Container
“This recipe is a version of a soup from Flanders in northern Belgium. Its name suggests it originated among the Béguines. Béguinage was a medieval institution that allowed pious laywomen to lead a form of religious life in common, without becoming actual nuns. It was one of the few alternatives to either marriage or the cloister…In general, they were a progressive group of women who wished to assert, as much as the times allowed, their independence from men. They were women of great culture, and some of them became renowned mystics.”
The recipe calls for chervil, which I could not locate. Having received an email from one of my teachers about the Apache New Year (which, like many other cultures, recognizes the spring equinox as the beginning of the year), sage seemed an ideal replacement. We were cold coming in from our hour in the wind; it took a few minutes to settle in and get the soup warming. Soon enough, the Wanokip put on The Doors and the party started. Pete and Sinead got me going on my research question, so much so that I had to take notes! They gave me an absolutely crucial framing, later clarified even further by The Ever-Smiling Evil Indian and Ambarish, who asked, “Isn’t it obvious [why certain people use or don't use the interpreters]?” Aha! The fact that they are making a choice is obvious, but the reasons for the choice are not! I have no idea what their reasons are, and (to be honest, gulp) I’m not sure (?) they have thought (?) very much (?) about it themselves. This is what I need to find out!
Searching human behavior for patterns is not so far removed from searching the stars for meaning, is it? I mean, come on, Renee found her way to the event by approximating a time in memory and correlating that temporal position with its internal references to other times (if she received the invitation two days ago and the event was specified as “tomorrow” then that meant “tonight” not Friday). A skill she has improved, apparently, after reading Longitude by Dava Sobel. (What role does the chronometer now play as “control” in a cybernetic civilization?!) Then there was the long convo with Anuj about inattention blindness and the basic fact that our brain must select – and therefore also de-select – where to aim one’s focus. (We also conjured the amazingly cool idea of eye tracking deaf people as they watch sign language.)
Obviously, with so much goin’ on in this puny brain, I had to take notes and remind everyone about the blog. “Is this informed consent?” I was challenged. I responded with the options. “Shut the F*** Up” has been duly noted.