November 2007

The last day of moon risings at Chimney Rock

By Art Goodtimes

LUNAR STANDSTILL … Friends snatched us off for a midnight ride to an Ancestral Puebloan archeoastronomic site west of Pagosa Springs last month. And they prepped us before with a talk by the good Dr. McKim Malville. He was the scientist who followed up on a hunch and unlocked an ancient key – a ritual sky phenomenon, by which our ancestors here in the Four Corners kept count of a unique cycle of celestial events … The great house, sun tower, great kiva, stone basin and other structures at the Chimney Rock complex, built high on a ridge of a mesa top, were clearly ceremonial, but archaeologists weren’t sure why. After examining sun cycles and the transit of Venus and other heavenly events, Dr. Malville calculated and hit upon the lunar standstill as the likely astronomic candidate … To understand what a lunar standstill really is requires far more math and astronomy than I care to explore, but suffice to say it’s a night-sky phenomenon having to do with orbits and tilts and centripetal chaos. Bronze Age megaliths marked this phenomenon in Europe. As the ancient peoples here in Colorado, it turns out, did also… On Aug. 8, 1988, the last day of the cycle in which this phenomenon might appear, Dr. Malville and a crew of students and friends climbed to the site and waited for the moon to rise. Of all the cameras, only Dr. Malville’s captured the historic moment, and the evidence of this unique event … Turns out, periods of building at the ridge site corresponded with the occurrence of the lunar-standstill cycle – Ridge House (1050 A.D.), East Kiva (1076 A.D.), Great House (1093 A.D.). Building alignments reflected cosmological perceptions. And the sky would have been a major focus of the Chimney Rock observatory after the dazzling events of 1054, when the Crab Nebula supernova was visible in the daytime for three weeks, and 1066, when Halley’s Comet roared through the ancient stars … We were a motley October crew – paying visitors, media hounds, tour guides, political guests and agency folks, tramping up the stone steps in the dark to the mesa top edge and waiting in a light drizzle for the moon that never made it through the clouds … If it had, it would have been the last sighting of this lunar standstill cycle, with the moon not rising again between Chimney Rock spires for almost two decades.


Driving Washboard
The secret is
take it
at a good clip.
Don’t go slow &
instead of rock & rattle
you’ll roll.

PALEOSHROOMS? … My friend John McLaughlin found a fascinating article in the July issue of the Smithsonian Magazine, “When Mushrooms Ruled the Earth?” … The article talks about one of the more puzzling life forms ever found on earth, a plant that towered over the landscape 400 million years ago, in the Devonian Period. Prototaxities was the largest land-based organism of its time … Originally it was thought to be “rotted wood” by its namer, the American archaeobotanist J.W. Dawson (1859). In the next century it came to be identified as alga, specifically brown alga. In 2001, after 20 years of research, Francis Hueber published a lengthy paper establishing it as a fungus … Now comes Marc-André Selosse of Paris who proposes that it may have been a lichen, that is, both alga and fungus … For more, go to eprototx.html.

MONTHLY QUOTA … “A moment I've been dreading. George brought his ne'er-do-well son around this morning and asked me to find the kid a job. Not the political one who lives in Florida. The one who hangs around here all the time looking shiftless. This socalled kid is already almost 40 and has never had a real job. Maybe I'll call Kinsley over at The New Republic and see if they'll hire him as a contributing editor or something. That looks like easy work.” — from the recently published Reagan Diaries. The entry is dated May 17, 1986.

MEDITATION … Hilton Obenzinger was a fellow poet in San Francisco (famous for his chapbook, “The Day of the Exquisite Poet is Kaput”) who worked with me at the Sunset Pre-School as an aide to the head teacher, Joanna McClure, the poet Michael Mc- Clure’s wife at the time. Obenzinger has since gone on to teach at Stanford, and shares various meditations with a wide circle of friends. He gave me permission to share this one with you … “Peace comes to the world … Israelis and Palestinians are eager to share. No one gets killed in Jerusalem, no knives, no bombs, no soldiers, and everyone forgets that the holy shrines exist. Holy what? … All the looted artifacts and ancient Sumerian stone books wiggle their way back into the Baghdad Museum. Dick Cheney really does have a change of heart, not just a heart attack … Politics becomes a way to meet new people and make sense of the world, a kind of dating service and Department of Public Works in one. The suicide bomber walks into the marketplace, yanks the string. Candies shoot out in all directions. He’s become a suicide pinata, except he forgets to die in the explosion of sweets … Generals decide that the military’s job will be to watch the skies for dangerous asteroids that may hit us. In the meantime, they’ll clean up the planet, reverse global warming, and zap computer spam … Millions watch TV and walk away smarter. Oil is no longer needed. Machines run on dreams … Iraqis never do learn how to play baseball, and they are glad. Sri Lanka is no longer divided, Ireland is no longer divided, Kashmir is no longer divided, Cyprus is one … Koreans skip across the DMV. Palestinian refugees return to their homes, and their Israeli neighbors no longer know why they wanted them to leave … The LAPD snaps on soft handcuffs, the officers smiling and winking at suspects and TV cameras. No one is forced to give a blow job in a high school broom closet … Crack and heroin and speed no longer have any effect, and cocaine might as well be talcum powder. Addictions become old movies to laugh at … Indians shave off the faces of the presidents from Mt. Rushmore. Sex is re-invented nightly. Giant corporations hand over their profits to schools. Rivers flow with pure water. The president apologizes for slavery, and he actually weeps … Millions of Americans can speak fluent Chinese, Spanish, French, Arabic, at least one more language besides English. Millions finally do read Moby-Dick, and they even like it … No one sells their body for sex. Women drive convertibles in Saudi Arabia. No one is hungry … Jerry Falwell admits that he really does not understand life, he can’t imagine what he had in mind when he spoke about Hell, and he decides that sex is a healthy, ordinary and natural part of life. A woman president takes maternity leave. Racists really do get color blind. High schools are named after Lenny Bruce and Charlie Chaplin … The Thelonius Monk School of Spiritual Mathematics opens its doors, and Condeleeza Rice is the first to enroll … All these and more can I see in a flash – and then the vision passes, dies off. I do not make a habit of deluding myself. But on occasion it helps to remember that nothing has to be the way that it is. Sooner or later, history will kiss us on the lips.”

Art Goodtimes is a San Miguel County commissioner.