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What I Saw At the Moonrise
When the moon finally came out from behind a band of cloud, glowing bright orange both dimmer yet more distinct than the lights of Newark spread out below, I was watching my son. He had been dashing from point to point, and I wanted to make sure he didn’t bump the photographer from the Advocate, when a person right in front of me said softly but clearly, "There it is."
I looked up, and my eyes went right to it. A harvest moon, some call it, when wide and low on the horizon a pumpkin of a moon first lifts up with a heave from the land’s edge.
Gasps, and quick mutters of conversation quickly turned into shouts and approving commentary, as if we had somehow helped the celestial body orbit into the right position to be seen by us. There was a sense of participation and involvement, along with the quieter but stronger feeling of witness.
We all were witnesses to something, people ready to testify that an occurrence had in fact taken place before our eyes, made all the more momentous by our having been in this particular place precisely to see exactly what we were looking at. We were witnesses, but we were not innocent bystanders. We were complicit. We were involved.
But what I saw at the moment of moonrise, northerly alignment with angles of earthworks, or whatever the significance, was that my son was there, he was safe, and he was not in any trouble. I saw him interact with professors and journalists, citizens and officials, the learned and the uninformed, other kids and seniors who had welcomed a cart ride up the slope to our hilltop perch.
What I saw, as others saw the moonrise just before I did, was that my child was in the middle of a crowd, finding his proper place (with no little nudging and more direct guidance from his mother and father), sharing in a moment which he could only dimly understand. He had been to planning meetings and conferences, in the Police Building and the Transit Barn, walked the earthworks and alignments of ancient architects for TV cameras and newspaper reporters, and also along the sidewalks of officialdom while his dad made some of the more prosaic arrangements for these events.
My kid had no more idea of what went on that night than he understood why we went to county commission meetings or to the hospital to meet with administrators. He knew that his dad and others thought "the octagon and circles and stuff" were important, which to a seven year old is roughly equivalent to the importance of a bottle of lemonade or a bag of cookies, which is pretty darn important.
He knew he was where he was supposed to be, but I watched him closely, more closely than the patch of sky which was why we were all out there that night, because he also wanted to be other places, like over there, or there, or there. And I was distracted a bit as well, because while I was where I had planned and worked to be that night, I was not quite where I wanted to be; we were not where I had hoped and worked for months and indeed years to put us on that night. So like the little guy, I wanted to be where I was not, too.
When the moon rose, and the ripple of awareness went through the crowd, we all cast our eyes and our awareness out along 51 degrees north, toward the valley of the unified Licking River heading east. We were on Memorial Hill in Geller Park of the City of Heath, but part of all of us was aimed at a point ten miles to a distant horizon, and some 250,000 miles across space to the single satellite of this planet Earth. We may not want to be standing on the surface of the moon, but some aspect, some element of our selves was hurtling out to that steadily moving point in orbit round and round us.
I lost track of my boy for a moment, as I looked intently at what was suddenly revealed in the eastern sky. I saw a vivid idea drawn on the landscape before me, of the Great Circle to my right and the Octagon assemblage to my left behind the trees, and the lines between sketched in thought, with the viewscape framing a neatly divided angle right in front of me. A bit more hazily I saw people standing just in front of me, roughly clothed figures who had supervised unimaginable effort to build a set of enclosures which they knew, but could not be sure, would predict and point to this very phenomenon. All along the hilltop, and in places on ridges behind me and in earthworks before me, I could readily imagine those ancient architects and astronomers, exhilarated by the success of their assumptions, proven once again by the moon’s course.
Then I snapped back to the hard-edged present, and looked to see where he was, and my wife was there, with her arm around him. They were in front of me, in a way those long go residents of this valley would never be, but they were staring intently at just what would have been watched two millennia ago. Call it 500 years the culture we call "Hopewell" would have held sway across this landscape, making use of this valley full of astronomical observation points in earthen walls. Divide, for simplicity, by 20. 25 times, maybe 27 to use the more precise 18.6 year lunar cycle, but almost certainly no more.
25, 27 times to stand in these places with family, with officials, with the community, is all that they had.
Then turn the clock forward, 1500 years. In the wake of Hively and Horn’s rediscovery, we come to this day, or rather these days, since a series of opportunities mitigate the cloudy intervals, both now and then. But this is it, the first time to consciously and intentionally stand and witness that the movements of moon and sun can be predicted, anticipated, comprehended. The first time in a millennia and a half, give or take a generation, and we are here.
My son will be 25 or so when this era’s second chance to witness the northernmost moonrise comes around again t the Newark Earthworks. Possibly he will know, or at least remember, that he was present at the last opportunity for this conjunction when 2024 rolls around. Possibly, I will stand there with him, a little less anxious about whose way he’s getting into.
Whether he will remember, whether he will understand what he witnessed that night, is up to me, to us his parents, and up to his community (educational community and otherwise). He may, and he may not.
But what I saw at the moonrise was that 25 year old and me in my 60’s, standing among the equally hypothetical 2000 year old figures. They are uncertain in outline, but they are real -- at least the past is provably real, since their knowledge is, in our felicitous phrase, "written on the land." My own figure, and that of my descendants knowledgeably taking their place in that group of witnesses standing vigil, is much less certain.
What I saw at the moonrise was people, standing on the surface of this planet, eyeing the antics of another heavenly body looping and curving around our own in odd but understandable patterns. What I saw at the moonrise was my child, my ancestors, and possibly my descendants if my witness is passed along properly. What I saw at the moonrise was my community, as it was before me, as it is at its best, and I believe I even saw how it might yet be, cycles and generations and millennia to come.
That is what, or rather whom I saw, at the moonrise.
Columbus Dispatch Letter to the Editor Public given only limited access to Newark’s wondrous earthworks Saturday, November 19, 2005 I usually read or skim through the entire paper. I have been disappointed at the meager coverage of the Oct. 22 Octagon Moonrise Event at the Newark Earthworks. Despite the rain, many people attended, with standing room only for the last speakers. I enjoyed many of the scientific presentations and was excited to meet the men who discovered the earthworks’ lunar alignments, Earlham College professors Ray Hively and Robert Horn. The American Indian cultural presentations also were interesting. If the weather had cooperated, I am sure the crowds would have overflowed the rooms and buildings. The Moonrise Committee put careful thought into the details of the day, from the great planetarium show to child care and children’s activities to the American Indian ceremony that was to accompany the moon’s rising. I worked in Newark in the 1980s and was frustrated by the limited public access to the earthworks, aka the Octagon State Memorial. I was looking forward to visiting the mounds at night to view the moon rising as the site was intended. It was so disappointing when the Moundbuilders Country Club canceled the evening part of the public event because of the wet ground. When I tried to visit the very small public part of the site, I was turned away by the police. As the cloud cover disappeared and the moon rose, only country-club members were allowed to walk onto the earthworks. The country club held its own private party on the mounds. The next day was a golf-free day when the public was to be allowed to walk through the site. The Ohio Historical Society staff and volunteers were using golf carts to transport elderly and visitors with disabilities around the grounds. A country-club representative stopped the use of the carts and prevented the remaining people who could not climb steps or rough ground from seeing the earthworks. There has to be a way for the people who care about the earthworks to get along with the country club and get access to this site. The country club is only leasing the Octagon State Memorial from the Ohio Historical Society. Unfortunately, the lease doesn’t expire until 2077, and I think I will be a bit old to be taking political action when the lease is renegotiated. My hope is that our children learn to appreciate this site, protect it and allow everyone to experience its wonder. Our children live within an hour of one of the top 70 wonders of the ancient world and have limited access. Please visit www.octagonmoonrise.org to learn about the negotiations with the club and read the letters from people who attended the event. There is another event being planned for today. Access to the earthworks is again being severely limited. We cannot bring legal pressure to bear on the club, but perhaps it will be embarrassed by its deeds being publicly exposed in the newspaper. PAM CHESTNUT-KOBYRA Dublin
October 25, 2005
To Whom It May Concern:
I am an Ohio State University professor, the co-chair of the Friends of the Mounds, a member of the Moonrise Event committee, and a Cherokee descendant from the Eastern Band. Newark Earthworks Day, October 22nd meant a great deal to me. When the Country Club cancelled the Moonrise event due to rain early on Friday, several buses from Columbus that I had personally arranged for were also cancelled.
I was pleased with much of what happened. The day events held at OSU-N campus were well attended and one could only imagine if it had not rained what the attendance might have been. To say the event was a success would certainly be an understatement. People traveled as far as Egypt to participate.
My story does not end here. Several hours before nightfall, the sky cleared and the sun came out, which for many gave hope that the night event would occur. Announcements were made that this was not the case, but one could not help but hear the buzz that people were going out to the mounds anyway. I live quite close to the Octagon. At 9:45, we arrived near the area only to see parking lots near the hospital full of cars and people walking to the mounds. The people quietly walked in the dark toward an area that could secure them an observation of the moon. Country Club security people with flashlights walked the area telling people that the grounds were closed. People quietly walked back toward Observatory Mound.
Just before the Moonrise time, thirty or so a group of people was escorted into the mound-area from the Clubhouse, holding their glasses of wine, laughing, talking and obviously allowed to be there. When I asked security why did they have the privilege to view the moonrise event at the prime location, I was told they were from the Ohio Historical Society. Of course this was not true. Two friends of mine were able to join the group undetected and found that actually it had been an arranged party for club members. As they sipped their alcohol drinks, they talked about other significant sites in the world and how they did not get what the big deal was about the moonrise. Meanwhile hundreds of other people who did understand the significance of the event silently watched from afar with smells of sage permeating the air and young children waiting patiently. The moon did not disappoint us--bright and orange it came peeping over the mounds and then the trees. Slowly people began to exit the area as quietly as they had arrived. Conversations at the parking lot ranged from their joy of seeing the rise to their utter disappointment with the Country Club.
How are members allowed to drink in the parking lot and on the mounds when it clearly states that no alcohol is allowed. Does membership to the Club allow one the right to not have to follow the rules that are posted for everyone else? Where in Ohio would you be allowed to drink in a bar’s parking lot? The site is a spiritual space and the members desecrated the place by drinking alcohol--it would be like popping the top off a Bud in the middle of church service. The point here is, if the event had been closed for the public because the grounds were wet and the Club feared damage to the course, then it should have been closed to everyone instead of telling people who were respectfully and quietly standing to leave and escorting loud, drinking members to the viewing area.
The next day, was a golf free day and hundreds of people visited the Octagon. Many were elderly. The Ohio Historical Society employees and volunteers gave tours and at one point were using golf carts for the elderly and disabled. A representative of the club, at one point, came out of the club house with the Memorandum of Understanding that had been signed by OHS and the Club, pointing out that the carts could not run until certain time, again denying access to the less than privileged. As the golf carts were being parked, the same club representative high-fived another member and inside the clubhouse they went. Doesn’t that say everything!
How can the state allow the club to maintain their liquor license when members drink in areas that are clearly marked by OHS to be alcohol free zones? How can the Newark community allow a Club to continue to hold a world-class site hostage for the bemusement of a few? How can anyone belong to such a club without feeling above everyone else?
The Moonrise Event was a success. It was well organized and educational. It also proved that when people know about the significance of a place they would come, even when it is cancelled. Although I had been initially quite disappointed about the cancellation, the response from the community and so many visitors the community and so many visitors from all over the world gave me hope that change is possible and people do care.
Professor Christine Ballengee Morris
To Whom It May Concern:
I am the person you spoke with on the golf course Sun. morning. Unfortunately due to
the rain that poured as I reached I 270, I did not go to the Serpent
Mound, but headed back
I did get in touch with Dr. Mickelson by email and he has offered to send me a CD.
I also sent out an email to Tom Burns in hopes of getting a couple of slides that he used
for his explanation of the moon's motion over the 18.6 years. Heard from Brad Lepper and
both he and Dr. Mickelson sent me your email as I was spelling your name wrong and
unable to find your email. I hope in the future to get more involved with some of the
Newark Earthworks after I complete my retirement in the spring from public school
teaching. I am a member of the OHS.
Since I am from FW, it is not too far and since I grew up in northern WV, I am almost
home there too.
Thank you so much for putting together a wonder weekend of information and once again
putting ancient astronomers on front burner. I started my archeoastronomy unit with my high
school astronomy classes on Tues. I noted that there was mention of the Newark Earthworks
and the weekend event on this past weeks news on email@example.com.
Ft. Wayne, IN
This note was a report on the
Denison University Planetarium Presentations as part of