Solar Calendars & The Rhythm of the Seasons
Just as the rise and set cycle of the sun give us our concept of the day, and the phases of the moon our month, a solar calendar gives us our seasons and year. The ability to develop a calendar based on the movements of the sun along the horizon represents a victory of enormous human significance for all of our ancestors.
Devoid of our multitude of urban distractions, ancient peoples were preoccupied by sky phenomena -- a source of awe, mystery and terror. Through long observation of seasonal cycles, they discovered patterns in the sky as well as in nature that gave them a sense of order and predictability. Key among those patterns was the apparent sunrise and sunset points along the horizon.
Solar Calendars are the precursors to the paper one's hanging up on our walls or the digital ones on our palm pilots. Some classic examples are Stonehenge (England), Guanxing Tai Observatory (China), Cahokia Indian Mounds (Illinois), the Kulkulkan Pyramid (Mexico), Jantar Mantar (India) and Machu Pichu (Peru). Exploring these worldwide treasures provide us with the illusion of time travel, reminding us of a time when our world was viewed as a distinct whole, with nature and culture intricately laced together.
As the various Design Phases and educational programs unfold, at César Chávez Park, the Solar Calendar will provide a novel context within which visitors can learn, and educators can teach, about agricultural cycles, astronomy, cultural heritage, the subtleties of nature, and environmental stewardship.
The Site & the Interim Solar Calendar:
In 1999 the City of Berkeley reserved approximately a 1.5-acre site at Cesar E. Chavez Park for the Memorial Solar Calendar. The site has a stunning 360 degree panoramic hilltop view of the horizon.
In 2002 a temporary work of earthwork public art, The Interim Solar Calendar, was collaboratively installed at the site by one of our partners, the East Bay Conservation Corp (EBCC). In 2005 a center gnomon and shadow-casting surface was added.
The Interim Solar Calendar (ISC) consists of 14 stones aligned to the four cardinal directions and to the solstice and equinox sunrises and sunsets. The center gnomon (a shadow casting pole) allows an assortment of mid-day and solar noon activities, which are based on understanding shadow patterns cast by an earth in motion on its axis as well as around the sun.
The ISC functions as a research site to develop on-site informal education activities for community members of all ages who are drawn to it daily, or for seasonal gatherings and teacher training. At the heart of that effort is the search for integrated art/science/cultural instruments and companion activities that will allow visitors to experience the earth, its seasons, and the cultural interpretations of its cycles in a new and expanded perceptual framework.
On Site Tours and Seasonal Gatherings
These gatherings, led by interpretive specialists, will provide
an explanation of how the site operates along with the overall educational
purposes of the project. Each gathering will also include some aspect
of the homage to César Chávez.
The Interim Solar Calendar (ISC)has been regularly and gratefully maintained by the East Bay Conservation Corp and by Service For Peace.
The ISC will be replaced by the Phase I Design as funds are raised over the next year.