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Desert Diary


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Time is funny. It betrays the common conception that it flows at the same rate everywhere. Now, we're not talking about how time seems to pass more rapidly when we're busy or as we age, but real differences not tied to our perceptions. A space traveler and his timepiece moving near the speed of light would perceive time proceeding at its normal pace, but would return home to find many more years have passed on the slow-moving home planet.

What about our measures of time? Strange as it may seem, they're really arbitrary in some sense. A basic unit, the year, is measured by the length of time it takes the sun to reoccupy the same place in relation to other stars, but the starting point is arbitrary and, indeed, has drifted through time. And in actuality any cyclic event could have been picked. Pre-European regional inhabitants of our area, lacking Babylonian astrology in their cultural background, probably used the seasons rather than the sun to mark time. Less precise, but certainly more practical for Southwestern puebloan farmers.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.