By M.F. Erler
I can remember as a child in elementary school learning about the Equinoxes and Solstices. Maybe I was more interested in earth science and astronomy than my peers, but the image of the globe tilted on its axis, turning each pole in turn toward the sun in its yearly circle, has stuck with me all these years.
About eight years ago, I asked my geographer son to build me a miniature Stonehenge in our backyard. He was glad to oblige, and used his dad’s GPS to accomplish a very accurate placing of each of the sight-stones in relation to the central one. I can now tell exactly where the sun will be on our horizon at each solstice and equinox.
Why was this important to me? I think partly because I need to remind myself that even when things in my world are growing dark, I can look forward to the eventual return of light. That life is not just a linear journey from birth to death. That it’s also cyclical.
As many of my Facebook friends know, I annually count down to the Winter Solstice. This is the one I look toward the most, for it represents the coming back of light. It was important to ancient cultures too, as we can see from the many ancient monuments like Stonehenge, which are oriented to show exactly when the solstices will come. I actually find it surprising that so many of my friends now comment that they look forward to my countdown. Maybe there’s an ancient “memory” in our DNA that points to these same times of the year that were so important to our ancestors.
Ironically though, as our world grows darker in most ways, we try to push back that dark with our artificial lights. Whether they are street lights or Christmas lights, they actually block out the stars that our ancestors looked to for guidance. Some places on earth, including Glacier National Park, are promoting their dark night skies, ideal for stargazing. People even talk about “light pollution” now in all our urban areas. Astronauts in space can tell exactly where the cities are as they orbit the night side of earth. Each metropolitan area and even small towns are seen by their artificial lights, clumps and strings of them scattered across the face of the globe. I wonder if it sometimes looks to these spacemen like a disease on the surface of the earth.
While we keep trying to find ways to push back the dark, maybe we need to be looking more for the lights within ourselves. Yes, our world is a mess and seems to be getting worse almost daily. But perhaps if each of us tries to let our lights shine out to others around us, we can do a better job of pushing back the dark.