A star party for children can be a magical occurrence as the imagination of a child, and often parents, becomes awakened to a part of the universe foreign to their usual experience. Many years ago I was getting kind of bored with astronomy alone, in the dark, feeling like something was missing. After I joined the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association 15 years ago, many opportunities came along to open the sky for others, but at first couldn't understand the point of looking at the sky under the bright city lights. But I tried a few, and my whole attitude changed. Showing the sky to others opened it up for me, and I've been hooked on public outreach ever since. The night of September 7 was a great example of how imagination in the night can be brought to visitors even without a sky, at a star party that didn't happen in the usual sense, but was a magical occurrence in its own right.
To make sense of it all, one must be familiar with a Tucson tribute to human imagination, The Valley Of The Moon. It is the vision of George Phar Legler, who began its construction in the 1920s, to quote from the web site Valley Of The Moon "as a unique area to appealing to the magical imagination of children and of bringing mental and spiritual relaxation for visitors to the site. Mineralized rock cliffs, caves, pools, and garden miniatures have blended with tropic and desert flora to create what Mr. Legler called the "Fantasy Touch of Three" (Lewis Carroll, Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson)". This is a location not to be missed, and only reading the web site will unveil the magic along the walking trails that took George over forty years to build, generally by hand, living on the site in a tiny cave. So many enchanting stops along the walking paths make this a wonderland to visit. Prior to his passing away, George had picked up the label as Tucson's J.R.R. Tolkien. As you wander the trails of this fantasy land near the corner of Prince and Speedway, you just might run into the signs pointing to Rivendell, or Narnia, or other places of fantasy and imagination.
TAAA was asked to help with one of the special event nights that occur frequently at Valley of the Moon. Saturday September 7th, the theme was Magic of Science at the Valley of the Moon. The Physics Factory attended, as did jugglers and fire dancers, and story tellers around the area. During the day I was in contact with Zack Jarrett, President of the Board of Directors, regarding the weather. Around 4 PM the skies look almost clearing, but IR satellite and ground radar data showed the sky was about to slam shut. So I emailed the other volunteers and we cancelled the scopes. There was so much other entertainment planned, telescopes would not be missed.
But, knowing as I did about the point of Valley of the Moon being to foster imagination in children (and adults) with a point of view of growth and kindness, I volunteered to add to the science night as a story teller of human imagination and the night sky over the past 7000 years, and how to make the sky their own. What a tremendous experience! I hung out at the cave of the Mountain Gnome, and as folks came through I'd start stories about imagination among cultures and the sky, especially some of the Native American imagination and comparisons of the thoughts of the Chaco culture and the Equinoxes being so important because of the harmony with nature, compared to the Stonehenge and other examples of the European focus on the Solstice, or maxima in their lives. People's faces would light up as they got the point of using their own imagination as George Legler would have encouraged rather than relying on some narrow book learning; the sky is theirs to enjoy. Three and a half hours of enlightenment flew by. We did not need to see The Big Dipper (Revolving Male), Cassiopeia (Revolving Female), and Polaris (the Home Fire/Hogan and repository of the goodness of the human spirit) making a single Navajo constellation to grasp the nomadic Navajo imagination of this representing the family, with the circumpolar movement of the structure symbolizing that wherever one wanders, the center of life is the family, the home, and the goodness of the human spirit.
The Physics Factory demonstrations were very exciting - after the main body of the crowd had departed around 9 PM, the physicists built a fire tornado in a tall screen cylinder. With some of the children who knew the ropes of Valley of the Moon and were dressed as fairies and other magical characters, this is one magical place to visit. Please check out the web site; learn why it is a special place in Tucson to bring children and visitors. And don't forget to look for the lucky pennies.
I later heard from Zack that visitors were hunting him down and very excited about the different point of view of looking at the night sky with imagination, even though we were totally overcast. We who are familiar with the night sky always have an opportunity to open children's minds to the night sky with imagination. You never know what one life you'll touch.
The Star Party That Wasn't, Yet Was
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