Celebrate the Solstice

How often do you get the chance to crawl inside a giant, inflatable Star Lab dome and have traditional Navajo stories told to you by a physics and astronomy professor?

Dr. David Begay is just one of the many people involved in the Arizona State Museum's fifth annual Solstice Celebration, 5 to 9 p.m. Saturday, June 19, but his tour of the ancient sky will have you looking at it in a whole new way.

In the Navajo tradition, the night sky is called "Upper Darkness," and its eight constellations, when viewed counterclockwise from the North Star, "resemble the configuration of a Navajo basket," says Begay. As constellations have served everyone from the ancient Greeks to modern-day sailors, they also influence the lives and work of Navajo people.

"Planting, for example," says Begay, "is regulated by the constellation Di'lyehe. When Di'lyehe disappears in the western horizon around the first of May, you plant. When it reappears around the first of July, you stop."

Begay--also a representative of the Navajo Nation Museum and a research associate working with NASA--will lead six 30-minute sessions throughout the evening. There's no cost to participate, though you'll have to grab a ticket since seating is limited.

For another take on the heavens, staff from the Mason Audubon Center and the International Wildlife Museum will be at the event with a posse of "crawly critters" who inspired constellations of their own among the field of classic Greek shapes. And if you can't just stare at the stars for four hours, the folks at ASM have a few other things planned as well.

The evening's performances span the globe: The Manuel Intertribal Dancers will perform intricate hoop, eagle and other Native American dances; the Dambé Dance and Drum Ensemble will bring in an African beat; and Palmer's Gate will prove that nothing complements Native American and African rhythms as sweetly as ... what else? Irish dance tunes. Aaron White--a Navajo/Northern Ute musician--will not only perform; he'll also demonstrate the making of Northern Ute-style flutes, one of which will be raffled off during the event.

Stella Tucker, a member of the Tohono O'odham tribe, is traveling to the museum from her family's summer camp in Saguaro National Monument to demonstrate traditional saguaro harvesting techniques. Before Tucker leads a group to the saguaros on old Main Street, cactus-rib picker in hand, Southwest author Susan Lowell will tell saguaro-related children's stories.

Kids can also make clay sundials with ASM artist-in-residence Sam Casados, as well as calendar sticks, sun prints, beaded bracelets, paper fans, puzzle pots, paper pots and more. (Adults are also encouraged to get creative.) Apache and Tohono O'odham games of chance--played on the ground with sticks and pebbles--will be taught, and visual treasure hunts will be set up in the museum galleries for kids of all ages. Older kids will look for traditions of celebration, harvest and planting among the exhibits on display, and younger kids will look for animals and their roles in various cultures. Mexican floral artist Josephina Lizarraga will teach tissue-flower making, an art she herself learned as a child.

The UA's award-winning Solar Car, "Turbulence," will be on display, staffed by two of the UA students who helped design and build the car, which last year took 10th place in the annual American Solar Challenge race from Chicago to Los Angeles. Ask them questions, or just stand and stare at them for a while with your cameras ready, in case they do something smart.

The event raffle, in addition to White's handmade flute, includes a solar lantern, books and CDs for both adults and kids, golf passes, plants, toys, T-shirts, Tucson Museum of Art memberships and more. All proceeds from the raffle get donated back to the ASM to support educational programs.

"We really try to make this a community event," says ASM Director of Education Lisa Falk, "so we invite lots of community organizations to participate and really try to open it up for everyone to be involved. This is our fifth year, and every year, it (attendance) is up by several hundred people."

To feed the masses, Indian tacos, red chili and beans, and fry bread prepared by Tohono O'odham women will be available for purchase. (Fry bread, if you've never had it, is probably the most chewy, delectable bread on the planet, even before it gets graced with honey or powdered sugar. If you're an Atkins person who intends to pause and gaze longingly at said fry bread for a moment before moving on, please be sure not to pause in my way, as I'll be making an unstoppable beeline for it.) Trader Joe's will also be offering up treats throughout the evening, though you're welcome to bring your own picnic basket.

"It's always a lot of fun," says Falk, "and people love it. Besides, what could be better on a hot summer night?"

Call 626-2973 or visit www.statemuseum.arizona.edu for more information, and don't forget to pack a blanket or lawn chairs.

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