Winter Solstice celebrated atop Munson Mountain

Celebrating the return of the light

Eight years ago, the top of Munson Mountain was the site of a small gathering, waiting to observe the winter solstice.

That year marked the first observation after the installation of Penhenge.

Eight years later, 60 people climbed up the trail and gathered around the three stones set into the mountain.

“The solstice is when the sun is lowest in the sky, and the earth’s axis is pointed away from the sun at its maximum,” said Chris Purton. “This is the shortest day of the year. We’ve got this array of stones up here, loosely known as Penhenge, lined up to show where the sun will set for the solstices and the equinox.”

Purton, a retired astronomer from the Dominion Radio Observatory — as well as a number of his friends, co-workers, and astronomy enthusiasts — installed the stones that makeup Penhenge. Their placement was decided based on years of the group’s own observations of the solstices and equinox. A task made less easy with the movement of the solstice’s timing.

“Every year the solstice shifts about six hours. This year it was just about an hour ago; the actual moment of the solstice happened at 2:22. Winter has officially begun,” Purton said to laughter from the gathered crowd. “From here the days get longer. We’re into recovery mode now.”

The cloud cover this year unfortunately blocked a proper viewing of the sunset. Despite that, everyone cheered as Purton counted down the moments as the sun would have dipped below the mountains.

“I’m very happy to see all the people who made it here, even though we’ve had better years. At least it wasn’t snowing this time,” Purton said. “One of the things I’m appreciating more and more is that as we’re celebrating here, people all around the world are having observances and celebrations of some kind.”

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