Living in any city, let alone one as tall and crowded and overlit as Manhattan, it's easy to lose sight of the grand march of celestial cycles. Even the sprawling suburbs of my former home, Houston, could obscure them, and even now I can be blinded by my tendency to stay under an air-conditioned roof. We used often to camp on a barrier island near the mouth of the San Bernard River west of Houston, where the terrain was pool-table flat in all directions clear to the horizon: the Gulf of Mexico for half the circle and cord-grass marsh for the other half. The rising and setting of the moon and sun engrossed our attention. Within a few hours I usually found myself wanting to fix a vertical stick in the sand and mark the path of the sun with shells at the ends of the shadows: a miniature sun-worshipping temple.

Manhattan is laid out on a grid that is about 29 degrees off of the east-west axis. As island-dwellers, Manhattanites benefit from relatively unobstructed views of the horizon at the termini of many of their streets. Twice a year, the sun rises at the right angle to shine straight down the streets, like a scene out of Jules Verne or Indiana Jones. The effect on these urban cave-dwellers is galvanic: dozens of them brave traffic to glory in the phenomenon and shoot pictures.

We owe much of our science and philosophy to our ancestors who lay awake under night skies, pondering their order.

H/t Maggie's Farm.

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