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Astronomer Judith Young, center, enlightens solstice-seekers.
EAGERLY ANTICIPATE a flash of astronomical insight that may come to us one of these evenings at the UMass Sunwheel: to a moment in which we actually "get" why the arc of the Sun seems fixed in space for a while in December and in June.
If Judith Young, the UMass professor, astronomer, and architect of the preliminary sunwheel that's already striking its stone alignments and drawing visitors by the dozens to a low-lying field south of Alumni Stadium, could press comprehension into the heads of the curious by clarity and willpower alone, we already would get it as do, probably, at least some of the other intrepid Amherstonians who joined Young at the site on the bright, frigid afternoon of the winter solstice.
Journalists are always hoping for a crowd. "Uh-oh," we thought, as we parked our car next to the field at 3:15 on December 21, noting no signs of human life but the friendly face of photographer Ben Barnhart. "Uh-oh," again, when ten minutes later the only new arrival turned out to be the astronomer herself, bundled up and hobbling, on a recently broken foot, in a somehow aptly medieval manner across the field toward the circle of stones.
We did think briefly that the solstice was going to be marked at the site by us four alone Young was accompanied by her fourteen year-old daughter, Laura but no. By the time the red-gold sun had slipped down behind the prong of the southwest stone, there were several dozen people at the site.
"And that was with no advertising," Young told us later. "For the summer solstice I'd invited some friends, and at the autumnal equinox we had several dozen Amherst schoolteachers there. But in December, not knowing what the weather was going to be like, I didn't want to advertise and have people come and be cold."
Word of the stone calendar had been spreading, however. A spate of newspaper stories appeared in October. A website Young maintains at www.umass.edu/sunwheel has seen good electronic traffic. The astronomer has been energetic in promoting the project the only working stone calendar on a university campus in the country in both formal and informal ways.
(School visits, of which there were eight last fall, represent the more formal end of the spectrum, and are precisely in line with the expectations of NASA, one of Young's major patrons. In granting $60,000 to Young's galaxy research last summer, the space agency added $6,000 in educational outreach money toward an enlarged sunwheel. The informal end is represented by T-shirt sales. Young even broke her foot "in the line of duty," loading sunwheel T-shirts into her station wagon last fall.)
Now, at the peak moment in the season-defining life of a sunwheel, Young stood on one of the low stones in the "central viewing area," gesturing with her cane and answering questions from the crowd: Questions about the varied and grand celestial movements the wheel can articulate; about the history and incidence of stone circles, the most famous of which is Stonehenge; about her plans for this one which, by the summer of 1999, if fund-raising continues to go well, will take final shape in a monumental double circle with ten-foot-tall solstice stones and massive stone doorways to frame the equinoxes.
Rosy orange light flooded the faces of young and old as the sun sank lower, and some of the children raced around the circle from one stone to the next. At one point, someone asked if the Sun or the Sun's path is actually moving more slowly at the solstice, or if that's an illusion.
"Ah," said Young, hopping off of the stone with unusual agility for a woman with a broken foot. "That's an interesting question. To answer it, I'll have to ask you to imagine that you're the Sun which is actually always standing still, you know, in relation to Earth."
Then the astronomer representing the Earth proceeded to hobble in a slow circle around the open-mouthed crowd, demonstrating how Earth's tilted axis represented by her cane always points north, and thus changes angles in relation to the Sun from season to season; and how that change affects the shifting movement of the Sun's arc across our sky.
We almost got it. We felt our terrestrially inclined brain stretch a little, as if someone were trying to shoehorn some unaccustomed understanding into it as indeed someone was then we lost it.
We'll get it eventually, though. The stone circle remains in place to guide our further efforts at celestial comprehension. When we visited a month later, in January, we were enchanted and amazed to see how measurably, yet how little, the point of sunset in relation to the solstice stone had crept north along the Hadley hills. At the equinox, says Young, when the Earth's tilted axis turns us more laterally to the sun, the set-point will change that much in a single day.
"Now, to gain a real understanding of that is to gain some real astronomical education," she says. "But even just getting people to notice it that's where we can begin with the sunwheel." PW
Related Links: Five-College Astronomy Department
Execrable Intent, Improved Intentions: the least attractive legend about Lord Jeffery Amherst is that the eighteenth-century namesake of our town welcomed, even plotted, the spread of smallpox among Native Americans. Legal studies professor PETER D'ERRICO, one of whose interests is Native American history and law, recently drew accolades on "The Straight Dope" internet site for his work in documenting that allegation. ("You will Do well to try to Innoculate the Indians by means of Blanketts," Lord Jeffery advised one correspondent, Colonel Henry Bouquet, "as well as to try Every other method that can serve to Extirpate this Execrable Race.") . . . Meanwhile, D'Errico and UMass astronomer Karen Strom are among the webmasters behind NativeWeb<www.nativeweb.org>. That website was among one of fourteen spotlighted on a humanities webpage launched by a consortium of national organizations last spring <http://edsitement.neh.fed.us/> . . . And finally, Native Studies at UMass were given new focus last fall by the establishment of an interdisciplinary program directed by Native American poet and English professor RON WELBURN. One of the key courses, "Contemporary Issues for Native Americans," will bring Native American visitors to campus for two-day visits. Except for the visitors' series, no new funds are required for this curricular initiative, says anthropology department head RALPH FAULKINGHAM.
The ASLA Medal, highest honor of the American Society of Landscape Architecture, was bestowed in November on UMass professor of landscape architecture and regional planning JULIUS FABOS, shown here at left. Fabos, who retired from teaching in December, was a pioneer in the field of landscape planning - especially through the use of GIS, or geographic information systems - and is an international authority on greenway planning. Meanwhile, the highest honor of the engineering profession, the National Academy of Engineering's Charles Stark Draper Prize, was awarded last fall to UMass chemical engineering professor VLADIMIR HAENSEL, right. Haensel, now eighty-three, is the inventor of "platforming," a process essential to producing clean fuel for transportation. It even played a role in the allied victory in World War II by allowing our armed forces to travel further on less fuel.
The Clapshot Redemption: Donning his chef's cap for an evening last fall, CHANCELLOR DAVID K. SCOTT did an ethnic turn for the Bangs Community Center "Feel for Food" program an opportunity for Amherst elders to sample dishes prepared by various high-profile volunteers. In the interest of town-gown relationships, Scott decided not to expose the unsuspecting senior citizens to haggis, a Scottish speciality involving sheeps' stomachs. Instead he served up a steaming dish of clapshot, a concoction of boiled turnips and potatoes, chives, butter and seasoning. "I'm almost embarrassed to serve this here," the chancellor told the hardy eaters. "But it is edible" . . . In late October, Scott followed in the footsteps of former campus president William Smith Clark in a trip to the Far East. Clark's 1876 journey resulted in the founding of what is now Hokkaido University and a motto "Boys, Be Ambitious" which is still regularly invoked in Japan. Scott's 1997 trip resulted in a new exchange agreement with Sejong University in Korea and exploration of links with the universities of Yonsei and Chosun. In addition, Scott met with key alumni in Japan and Korea to discuss a major project celebrating the 125th anniversary of Clark's visit in the year 2001. One proposal would renovate a historic area of the campus, creating "Clark's Way" from Clark Hall to Durfee Gardens.
"The Power and Class of New England" was acknowledged as the power and class of America when the Minuteman Marching Band (shown here with another leader of the free world) were selected in December to receive the nation's top marching band award, the 1998 Louis C. Sudler Trophy of the John Philip Sousa Foundation. The announcement coincided with the twentieth anniversary of GEORGE N. PARKS as band director; see related story, page 49.
The Truth is Out There: or rather in here, on campus, in such scientific minds as molecular biology professor ANNE SIMON, who has served as a scientific advisor to the Emmy-Award-winning TV show "The X-Files" since it premiered in 1993. Simon combines a clear understanding of genetics with a love of communication (demonstrated by her recent UMass Distinguished Teaching Award) and a fan's love of good science fiction (a legacy, perhaps, from her father, Mayo Simon, who has written the scripts for such Hollywood films as "Marooned" and "Future World").
Library's Open Door: "We are a state library open to the community," said UMass' director of libraries MARGO CRIST in a recent interview in the Amherst Bulletin. "Anyone can get a card. We want people to know that." This open-door policy places over two-and-a-half million books and 15,500 periodicals within reach of the public . . . This includes the third largest Latin American studies collection in New England, exceeded in size only by those at Harvard and Yale . . . For more on the libraries and Crist, see page 24 of this issue of UMass Magazine.
Entomologically Speaking: "Scrambling packs of little creatures eyes darting around the room, arms and legs in constant flutter, soft noises communicated in a language of their own converged December 4 in an entomology lab at Fernald Hall." This captivating intro to a story in the Campus Chronicle the work of assistant editor ROB GALVIN '79 was followed by the query, "Beetles? Spiders? Caterpillars? Dare we say it ... roaches? The correct answer is 'None of the Above.' The young lifeforms who took over the room were a rarer sight on campus: third-graders." As Galvin reported, the Deerfield Elementary School class of PAULINE MILLS '95 had "descended on campus for a weekly program called 'Community Entomology,'" which offers children "an up-close look at the insects all around us." A three-year-old outreach effort spearheaded by entomology professor JOHN STOFFOLANO, "the morning visit includes an introductory lesson, visits to a working beehive, a collection of insects discovered around campus and across the world, and a hands-on meeting with a couple of creepy-crawlies."
The Rainbow Correlation: Increased minority enrollments in Western Massachusetts colleges have been led by UMass Amherst, concluded a recent report in the Springfield Union-News. Between 1990 and 1995, the number of black students on our campus rose from 724 to 1,037, the number Hispanic students from 731 to 971.
Corporate Cutting Edge: A Japanese dairy-company scientist who forgot to turn off the electricity on a "milk-conductivity" experiment is one of the illustrative subjects of Corporate Creativity, a new book coauthored by SOM professor ALAN ROBINSON. The book, which received a rave review in the October 20 BusinessWeek, argues that companies dramatically increase productivity when they foster innovation. The Japanese scientist, for example instead of hiding the evidence of the curdled residue his oversight produced recognized in it the potential for a new method of cheese production . . . More such business-like wisdom is to be found in a new book by SOM's ANNA NAGURNEY and STAVROS SIOKOS of the School of Engineering. This less accessible but equally valuable text is titled Financial Networks: Statics and Dynamics, and applies sophisticated analytical tools e.g., "finite-dimensional variational inequality theory" to a host of domestic and international financial systems.
A Molding in His Grave: Hollywood producers recently bought the film rights for history professor STEPHEN OATES' To Purge This Land with Blood: A Biography of John Brown, first published in 1970 by Harper & Row and later a Literary Guild Book Club selection. "My first reaction was giddiness," said Oates, whose 1997 The Approaching Fury was featured in the Fall, 1997, UMass Magazine.
Wings on Their Feet: Sweeping honors were collected by UMass women's cross-country at the A-10 conference in Virginia last fall. Led by senior REBECCA DONOGHUE (pictured below) herself claiming her second consecutive league championship the team finished first for the third year in a row. Five UMass women were among the top nine finishers. All five made the all-conference team. The
Minutewomen posted the best scoring total in conference history, and for the fifth time in seven years coach JULIE LAFRENIERE '77, 86G is A-10 Coach of the Year.
The world lies sleeping under a waning moon, except for the students pulling an all-nighter, whose voices float into the brittle atmosphere from an open window in Moore. (Even on the coldest days, one always sees plenty of windows open in Southwest dorms.) Meanwhile, in the bakery, the light and heat are artificial, but the smells are authentic: yeast, dough, baking bread. This morning, in contrast to the outdoors, it is particularly warm in the bakery. The thermostat isn't working right, and the crew two head bakers, four bakers, four assistant bakers finds it a little too cozy for comfort. In here, the dark, cold night outside seems a dream, furthered by the absence of windows.
The atmosphere is also a little dreamlike in the bakery. It's so quiet, given the amount of work being done. There is much to do: by six a.m., the bakery will have sent out tens of dozens of doughnuts, muffins, Danish, crullers, etc., to eighteen "satellites" (the campus snack bars, C Stores, and dining halls), and will be well along toward filling the many catering orders they have.These sweet edibles are the unacknowledged fuel that keeps the campus running; people need their honey-dips. Market pressures aside, there is also the inexorable nature of rising dough. "The dough doesn't wait," is how Jackie Thomas, who's cutting out doughnuts, puts it.
Christmas shopping, on the other hand, does have to wait, notes Barbara Wait, working across the table from Jackie. The need to sleep and to rest tired feet exerts too much pull during the week. Baking is standing work, mostly. Jackie has been at the bakery fourteen years, and when she heads home at eleven, she'll sleep until her eight-year old grandson arrives after school. Barbara has been part of the crew six years.To her left is Tim Pelletier, thirteen-and-a-half years, deep-frying crullers. Nearby, glazed doughnuts are hung up to drip-dry, lined up on rods over a two-by-three foot pan wherein rests the sugary-fatty residue of legions of doughnuts who have gone before, some slightly wavery inches of a lard-like commodity that may make its observer decide to forgo such treats for a while.
Mike Griffin, head baker of the specialty shop, has just come on, part of the five a.m. "late shift." A big man, he could be a John Candy character, a good-natured, slightly acerbic realist with an eye for the absurdities of the world. When a delivery goes astray, a cake arrives at its destination with one side squooshed, "No one ever did it, no one touched it, just like my kids." (He has two, aged eleven and fifteen.) Mike starts walking around, sliding a pan in here, moving a rack there, checking orders.
This is the Land of the Big. Bowls you could bathe a baby in, trays to toboggan on, flour scoops as big as jai-alai baskets, rolling pins the size of a horse's leg, to borrow a phrase from Bill Cosby. Two-foot-tall dough hooks that look like Brancusi sculptures. Stainless-steel ovens that you could step into, or lie down in if they weren't cranked up to 375 degrees. The convection walk-ins, with their bank-vault doors, are a little spooky. Is it that they stir up childhood memories of fairy tales, the witch being pushed into the oven in "Hansel and Gretel"? (Well, she deserved it.)
Sidekick to the walk-ins is the oversized Rondo mixer, which can whip up 300 pounds of dinner rolls in twelve minutes. As it whirls, Rich Hebert scrapes down the sides, tosses in scoops of Bake `N Joy flour, pints of water. He makes the drive down the slippery hills of Ashfield to come to work at four a.m., "banker's hours for a baker," he notes. He's not the earliest; some come in at three. Next, he and Todd Numan `95 prepare a tub of dough for the roller, another Big Machine, a conveyor belt that can form sixty baquettes in five minutes.
Across the room, Mike suits up in what looks like an Air Force parka to do battle with impending entropy in the netherworld of one of the freezers. Delivery men are starting to wheel out rattling racks of fresh, aromatic pastries and breads to their trucks. The next order of business: pies, brownies and cakes for the lunch crowd. FSW