Wednesday, December 21, 2011


sunset, december 21, 2011, from our porch in woodland hills
Today the sun-stands still (sol-stice) after having wandered south for six months. Tomorrow it will start moving north again. That's good news for all of us who get SAD this time of year.
This figure from a Weber State site shows what's up:

Lots more information at the site (click on the caption).

Seasonal sadness doesn't seem to be a new thing. Alignments of standing stones set up thousands of years ago mark the point the sun will reach before finally starting to come back. 

The photo below shows the southernmost reach of the sun, right at the top of Santaquin Mountain. Moving to the left, as the sun now will do, it will slide down the mountain, climb the peak with the microwave tower, and descent down into the next dip before June 21.
sunrise, day after the solstice
I spent a couple of weeks one summer traveling from Land's End to the Orkney Islands, visiting standing stones and thinking about why we stand up stones. There are burial sites and fertility sites as well as the astronomical sites, so the answers are multiple.

In honor of this year's solstice, some photos from that trip (much better ones all over the internet; but these are mine and thus memoryladen):



Stonehenge: No Access to Stone Circle!

Standing Stones of Stenness (Orkney Islands)

Ring of Brogar (Orkney Islands)

And the most phallic of them all! The Devil's Arrows

The Flowerville blogger's response to the photos took me back to the notebook I had with me on the trip. A couple of images scanned from the book I left in a London cinema near the end of the trip, after seeing Wim Wenders' Bis ans Ende der Welt, and then retrieved, gratefully!, hours later):

Standing Stones of Stenness

Ring of Brogar

What Remains of my Orkney Lunch
Finally, a poem of George Mackay Brown's, recommended by flowerville:

A Work for Poets

To have carved on the days of our vanity
A sun
A ship
A star
A cornstalk

Also a few marks
From an ancient forgotten time
A child may read

That not far from the stone
A well might open for wayfarers

Here is a work for poets --
Carve the runes
Then be content with silence

And a poem by my friend Leslie Norris, may he rest in peace, about poetry and life and the cromlech in the photo above (note the 12 stanzas -- *sta-nzas):

“The Twelve Stones of Pentre Ifan”

The wind

Over my shoulder

Blows from the cold of time.

It has
Shaped the hill,
It has honed the rock outcrops

With the
Granules of its
Rasping.  When the old ones

Were born
They dropped in dark-
ness, like sheep, and hot animals

Howled for
The afterbirths.
I watch the great stones of

Faith they
Moved in the flickering
Mountains of their nameless

Lives, and
See once more the
Points of adjusted rock, taller

Than any
Man who will ever
Stand where I stand, lifting their hope

In still,
Huge stone, pointed
To the flying wind.  The sea ebbs again

And round
The endless brevity
Of the seasons the old men’s cromlech

Its hard shadows.
The four great stones, elate and springing,

And the
Smaller stones, big
As a man, leaning in, supporting.
                        Leslie Norris (Walking the White Fields: Poems 1967-1980)


* said...

do you know george mackay brown? i like his stuff.

orkneys are on my travelling list since ages and now even more so... nice old pictures... you've seen more of england than me :)

Scott Abbott said...

thanks for the g.m.brown suggestion. i hadn't known him, but will read him now.

you can see by what i've added to the post that your response took me back. many thanks.

* said...

you're very welcome scott. travelling back in time is nice... and especially so when one can remember such nice things and share them... those drawings are really cool. i can't draw. i like that about the nameless lives in that poem of your friend... it's a beautiful beautiful landscape, this all... mental and outside too...


I am going to be a bit irrev on the subject of stones: I had a poet friend Michael Lebeck, a fine translator too, [Nossack] who however was bit touched, and suddenly joined a cult. When I asked him, at a deli at Sixth Avenue and 57th in NYC, what he did there, he replied that he moved an imaginary rock up and down, apparently in his head, which I then told another friend, who succeeded Michael Lebeck in occuppying what had been EE Cummings' dolls house Mews building in Patchin Place, also in NYC. That was the lyricist Jerry Leiber whose one line response was "ROCKS IN HIS HEAD" - on the principle of projection: perhaps that is what those Norseman had back then a few thousand years ago, and perhaps they still do, although they no longer extroject them in quite that memorable a fashion!

Scott Abbott said...

rocks in their heads indeed!

i think i told you once that my friend diana girsdansky epperson is the granddaughter of the woman who lived with eecummings in that place (cummings second wife) until dr. girsdansky made a house call and took her with him.

michael morrow said...

hey scott...are you suggesting that, perhaps the main, purpose of the standing rocks has to do with the shadow they cast? hhmmm...interesting...wonder if groupings is a factor too?

Scott Abbott said...

the alignments are often meant to mark the solstices, and there would indeed be shadows at that time, like that slice of sunlight that touches the spiral in chaco canyon.