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Solar calendar in Mace Ranch Park a reminder of nature’s patterns

This article appeared in the April 22, 2011 edition of the Davis Enterprise.

By Liz Shenaut
Special to the Enterprise

If you wander through Mace Ranch Park, you may notice next to its largest, oldest oak tree an area of the park shaped into a large earthen spiral, imbedded with large stones around the edges. You may puzzle over its purpose and wonder how to interact with it. 

Called “Evidence of Life,” this 2006 art installation commissioned by the City of Davis is a solar calendar, providing a map of seasonally significant sunsets and sunrises for the observer sitting on the stone at its center.

The creator of this work, artist Sam Tubiolo, intended the spiral shape to be a symbol for life and change. Being in the middle of the spiral allows visitors a space to observe and reflect upon nature in the park.

As seasons and years pass, the living things around the solar calendar flourish and fade in cycles that are ever-changing, yet predictably constant.

The large stones around the edges of the spiral show one aspect of nature’s predictability  -- the places where the sun sets and rises at each solstice and equinox.

As Earth’s tilt changes, so do the seasons of the year, marked by two solstices and two equinoxes annually. From the stone at the center of “Evidence of Life,” the peripheral stones mark the direction to look for sunrises and sunsets on the first day of each season: spring equinox, summer solstice, fall equinox and winter solstice.

The three stones on the east side of the solar calendar mark sunrises, while the three on the west side mark sunsets.

Spring equinox happened on March 20, when Earth had no tilt at all so day and night were the same length. Coming up next is summer solstice on June 21, which will be the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer.

If you sit in the center facing east, the three stones mark from left to right: summer solstice sunrise, fall equinox sunrise and winter solstice sunrise. The center stone you are sitting on represents spring solstice sunrise.

Looking in the opposite direction from the center of the spiral and to the west the stones mark from left to right: winter solstice sunset, spring equinox sunset and summer solstice sunset with the center stone for fall equinox sunset.

Although the maximum power of “Evidence of Life” might be at those key moments during sunsets and sunrises when the seasons change, the calendar is always there.

At any time, passersby may have a seat on its center stone to take a moment’s rest inside the spiral, perhaps to linger and take notice of the interconnectedness of living things around the park.

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