How to Make Your Own Stonehenge Type Solar Observatory  

Posted by Dave in

Ok, so I'm a week late. Last week was the Summer Solstice, and the frenetic activities that occupy the longer days of summer have proven to be a false economy. Posting has taken a step back as the added burdens of garden weeding, fruit picking, mowing and such have stepped up as we have been preparing for freezing, canning and drying the upcoming harvests. Though our garden is still dismal owing to the thin covering of heavy soil (is that an oxymoron?), and the depredations of the deer, squirrels and ground hogs. Family, neighbors and local farmers seem thus far to be having a decent year, though. Hopefully their excess will be available to help carry us through until our little plots mature and are strong enough to provide.

Often, while struggling to finish some long task at the end of an even longer day, I look up to realize that, although the sky is still light enough to see, it is long past the kids' bedtime and I haven't even cooked supper yet. I know it is summer, but proper sleep is a commodity that we are often short on as a society, and I try to keep their schedules regular.

But back to the solstice. Growing up it was a regular part of our family routine to observe the position of the sunset each evening at supper. Our table was in the western part of the house, and the fact that, by happy coincidence, our barn ran almost directly north and south, so it was easy to mark the progress of the sun as it progressed on it yearly cycle. It was as much a matter of conversation as the weather, and a part of our internal clocks. Precision was less important than the act of observation, the act of appreciation.

Our observatory was the product of years of living and watching, and a certain amount of osmosis. We just kind of absorbed the positions and related meaning. We drew encouragement in the dark days of February to note the sun had moved toward a certain point on the barn roof and spring was surely coming. Similarly, even though the days were long and beautiful, we were reminded to get the harvest ready and prepare for winter as the sun began its trek back south. Without realizing it, we were in tune with the seasons more surely than we could be if the calendar was our only regulator. Though this is just one of the cycles we are all influenced by, often too little thought or credit is given.

In the years since I left home, I have always, to some degree, paid attention to the the position of the sun. Depending on the specifics of my location, it has either been the sunset, or the more traditional sunrise. Sometimes I have simply taken note of the positions as the year progressed, making improvised observatories such as our "barn roof observatory", and sometimes I have taken a bit more time and built simple observatories.

One year I planted my green beans and pole according to my previous year's observations. I dubbed this creation "Beanhenge". Other years I have stacked rocks, adjusting for precision throughout the year, only to find myself changing homes before my creation was complete.
Since moving to this current home, I have not yet had time to actually build a formal structure. Happily a combination and a few coincidences have handed me a ready made observatory.

My desk sits beside the massive stone chimney that heats our winters (and helps hold the cool in the summer), and windows wrap around me to both the south and the east. On the morning of June 21, when viewed from here the sun seems to rise between the two tall poplars that shelter my outdoor cooking area. Next December, I know if I sit here, it will rise over the very back edge of the outhouse. Once during a particularly dark year (of mood), when I first noticed this, I dubbed my "creation" with the slightly disrespectful moniker of "Sh*thenge" and the name has since stuck.

I believe everyone should be just a bit more aware of the workings of the world, and so I propose you make your own stone henge. It can be as easy as picking a spot to observe either the sunrise or sunset, and occasionally noting the difference, or it can be as complicated as getting a compass, and marking the various points from a central observation point, then making daily observations and markings. Here are some cool activities that can make it a part of your family's routine, and maybe create a tradition and a re-connection with the natural world.
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This entry was posted on Friday, June 27, 2008 at 10:32 AM and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .


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