Two of my three morning classes were canceled, on account of student council elections and a few other odds and ends at morning assembly, so I only had one class today.
We walked out to my labyrinth. Out near the school’s baseball field, there’s a drainage pond, and a few piles of dirt for the use of the school maintenance crew. On a patch of craggy ground with a lot of junky rocks and some wildflowers, I laid out a Cretan-style labyrinth this summer. The labyrinth has lovely views to the east and west, and suitable views north and southeast; it’s really only dumpy and ugly to the immediate south and southwest. Check it out!
It’s quite a few yards in diameter; the center part is about three feet in diameter, and then it extends a few yards in every direction from there. The school maintenance crew dumped a load of dirt on the left-hand side, partly obscuring the path, but hey — they didn’t cover it completely, so it’s not so bad, I guess.
Anyway, all those vertical stones in the lines of the labyrinth? Those are alignments with the summer solstice sunrises and sunsets, and with the equinox sunrise. There’s a line for the Winter Solstice sunrise, but the sunset on the same day would be somewhere under that 2-ton pile of dirt.
We walked out to the labyrinth from the classroom on a bright, sunny day, walked the labyrinth path to the center, and sighted down the alignments. We tried to get a sense of what it had looked like at dawn last Tuesday, and what it would look like at Winter Solstice, and what it would look like in February. I explained how a lot of European cultures used stone circles to keep track of time, and how the Egyptians built the first accurate calendar, and how Stonehenge tracked similar moments in time. They weren’t completely fascinated, I admit.
Then one boy asked me, “why didn’t they just write this stuff down? I mean, they could just note this stuff on a calendar.”
I said, “Alex, this is the calendar.”
“Right, but why not just write it on paper?”
“Because there wasn’t any paper, and there wasn’t any writing.”
“Ok, but why didn’t they just invent them?”
“Well, they did… eventually. About six thousand years after they started keeping track of the motion of the sun and moon using these primitive computers made out of stones.”
“Yeah, but —” he paused. “What do you mean, they didn’t have writing.”
“It hadn’t been invented yet.”
“Well, they painted on walls. In caves.”
“Yes, but they didn’t have writing.”
“But…” I could see the gears churning in his head. I could see all of the wheels in all of their heads churning.
“How did they communicate with people?” asked another kid.
“They told stories. But they had to tell them directly. You couldn’t get a story from someone who was dead, unless they had told someone else before they died, and that person told it to you.”
We were a quiet group on the walk back. Alex asked, “Are you going to write down how the labyrinth works? How the stones line up with the dates, and the seasons?”
“No,” I said. “It’s meant to be a reminder of a time when information had to be transmitted without writing. If I write it down, it will defeat the whole purpose of building it.”
“So how will people know how it works?”
“I told you, didn’t I?”
“So you know how this calendar-computer works. Now it’s your responsibility.”
“What if I forget?”
“Then it will be Stonehenge… a massive calendar-computer, for which we have no instruction manual.”
“Oh.” He paused. “Oh!” Light on in his eyes. Message received.
So there you have it. If you want to know how it works, you’ll have to find me at the labyrinth one morning, and get the explanation. Or find him.
Because we’re not writing it down. The labyrinth is paperless.