Celestial Engineering Department
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Sag Harbor Express article
A new day dawns in the Hamptons. Earth and Sky dance together once again in a song of the seasons.
Located in the center of the South Fork of Long Island, Channing Daughters Winery is unique for its special, distinctive wines, with many of its recent selections being favorably featured in the New York Times.
Channing Daughters is the inspiration of and home to Walter Channing, artist and entrepreneur extradoinaire. Walter's art work adorns the grounds and gallery, and his distinctive style is captured in the essence of the trees. Just inside the entry of the wine tasting room is a piece entitled "Woman in Tree" in which the entire truck of a black walnut has been split open to reveal the feminine spirit hiding within.
In addition to this and other indoor pieces are a series of sculptures which lie in a secluded field behind the vineyards in a site now known as Woodhenge.
In the beginning, the center of the site was carefully selected. As Jupiter crested high in the sky, the "Omphalos" was driven into the Earth, marking the visual heart of the entire site. The time was elected by astrologer and artist Don Cerow, creator and designer of Woodhenge. Omphalos is a Greek term which means 'belly button', and it serves as the central point through which all other observations at Woodhenge are meant to take place. Like spokes of a wheel, all the sight lines align with this sacred axis.
In the beginning...
The Omphalos in the mist
watched by the Sisters
After the site for the Omphalos was selected, it was easy enough to establish the North-South cardinal points by using Polaris, the North Star. This line of site was then extended in the other direction to establish the southern orientation and gate. This southern alignment is important because it describes a line of sight along which the Sun, Moon and all the planets, indeed, even the stars culminate at their highest arc of heaven. When the Sun is on this line, it is high noon and what the Greeks thought of as Apollo's chariot casts the shortest shadow on the Earth.
While the North Star works well enough to orient our observatory, it is not exactly on the North Celestial Pole. Polaris is very close to this mark, currently at 89¡ 15' of northern arc, declination. It is three quarters of a degree off-center, and closing. It will climb to about 89¡ 34', when it will be at its closest approach.
Naturally, our chief object of interest has often been referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, Stonehenge. From these simple beginnings, with our pole and Northern Gate, we hoped to recreate an early model of Stonehenge, not so much in exact detail, but to provide a working site to help orient the heavens and our place in it. Stonehenge was originally constructed to help calibrate the Sun, Moon and the stars. For those who have visited Woodhenge in the Hamptons, we can repeat the same observations made thousands of years ago. The view we see here is the contemporary structure, known as Stonehenge III, with its huge ring of megaliths.
The Omphalos aligned with the Northern Gate
East and West, however, are not so easy to determine. As the stars emerge from or approach the horizons, their light is generally lost in the haze of light and other atmospheric disturbances which can exist in North America. Only the light of the Sun or Moon is generally strong enough to pierce this haze. The Sun will only mark these two cardinal points on the first day of Spring or Fall, while working with the Moon can also be problematic.
We circumnavigated this problem with a little help from the computer. By establishing when Mars was higher in the sky but due west, we dropped a sight line to the horizon using a string and a plumb bob.
Having established our cardinal points, north, south, east and west, we turned to study the history of Stonehenge, and found out that the original 'circle of stones' weren't stones at all, but wood!
About 3500 to 3000 BC the semi-nomadic peoples that populated the Salisbury Plain began to build the monument now known as Stonehenge. The original construction was a circular ditch and mound with 56 holes forming a ring around its perimeter.
Stonehenge, Phase III
It is this original construction that 'Woodhenge' now seeks to emulate. The first stone to be placed at the original site was the Heel Stone, while at Channing Daughters it was the Omphalos. At Stonehenge, the Heel Stone was erected outside of a single entrance to the site. 200 years later 80 blocks of bluestone was transported from a quarry almost 200 miles away in the Prescelly Mountains. It is surmized these blocks were transported by way of rafts along the Welsh coast and up local rivers, finally to be dragged overland to the site. These stones were erected forming two concentric circles.
At some point this construction was dismantled and work began on the final phase of the site. The bluestones were moved within the circle and the gigantic stones that give Stonehenge its distinctive look were installed. Some of these massive stones weigh as much as 26 tons!
About 1500 BC the original Stonehenge fell into disuse, yet its general outline can still be discerned after suffering the weathering of time and ravages of man.
Woodhenge, circa 2900 BC
Heart of the Site
Naturally, Channing Daughter's site hasn't been around as long as the original, but it was from these same humble beginnings that stellar observation began. While many of the main alignments do correspond to the correct position of the Sun at the start of each of the seasons, it is not confined to this. Extremes of the Moon have also been noted. In fact, Stonehenge supplies a system of calibration against which the sky may be measured, and the cycles of time and the planets noted.
A hawk over
the Eastern path
Naked Eye Astronomy Classes* are being offered through Boulder Life Long Learning on four Wednesdays, Feb 4, 11, 18 and 25, 2004. On Monday, February 2nd we will have a Star Myths Candlemas at Gunbarrel Hill, and on Friday, March 19th, at the same location, our Vernal Equinox gathering.
Information: firstname.lastname@example.org or (303) 417-6625.*
[*Please note that this information is dated and the sight is no long available except in spirit. The email, however, is still good. This article follows the construction of Woodhenge in the Hamptons, and then our move to Boulder, Colorado through 2004.]