Thursday, December 24, 2009

Winter Solstice & the Tree of Life

The Tree of Life sculpture at the corner of Galvin Parkway and McDowell was built in 1991 as a boundary art project using transportation 1% for the arts program (1% of all highway programs funding went to support the arts).  Scottsdale & Phoenix arts programs were also involved.  Anyhow, the sculpture is supposed to be a terraced 'garden' collecting and distributing rainwater to several terraces all in the shape of a tree. Kind of neat. 

It is also supposed to be a solstice marker. I can find very little in that regard on-line, and I think I now know why that is.  The winter solstice was Dec 21, but as solstice means "sun stands still" it should still have been the same on the 22nd and 23rd.  The 21st had clouds and the 22nd did as well. The 23rd was a clear day, and I climbed atop the shortest of the pillars supposedly aligned with the winter solstice sunset.

As you can see the shadows begin to align.  If the true sunset were not blocked by a small ridge in Papago Park (the sun disappeared a full 5 minutes before offical sunset time) the shadows may have aligned.  But in the last shot the shadows clearly do not align.  Very disappointing. No wonder so little is said of it being a solstice marker.

This is probably due to modern technology. They likely had all the right calculations determining exactly where the sun would be at the exact time of sunset.  They never figured in the reality of terrain affecting the viewabililty of the sunset.  As it was quite the opposite for the indigenous people, they were able to make very precise markers for the 'magical' time of solstice.

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