Saturday, January 30, 2010

Born under a different star

I remember as a kid lying on the sweet-smelling grass of the dark football field at 2 in the morning, looking up at the black sky filled with billions of points of lights - so many stars you couldn't even imagine if you lived surrounded by city lights. The country summer sky is ablaze with stars too many to imagine, something missed by city folk. As I laid there looking up, I would pick out the familiar constellations I had known all my life, like old friends: the big dipper, the little dipper, the kite, the bear, the north star. They all had formal names but those were the names I learned as a child. And the awesome cluster of stardust that was the Milky Way, the other side of our own galaxy. Every few seconds, shooting stars. And the weird shimmering sheets of light of the Northern Lights.

If you are a city dweller, you must drive out of town, from time to time - it is good for your soul - in the quiet early morning hours until you leave the streetlights behind. Drive down a country road and stop. Get out and look up at the wonder. Have you forgotten how many stars there are up there on a clear night when you are surrounded by darkness?

It wasn't until much later that I learned there is a completely different view of stars for people who live in the Southern Hemisphere. There are just as many, but they are different stars with different arrangements, different constellations with different names than the ones we see in the Northern Hemisphere. People in South Africa and Australia don't know about the big dipper, or can't see it if they do know about it.

It is summer in the Southern Hemisphere now, hot. The rains have begun in South Africa, almost finished now, in fact. Soon they will be able to build their new houses and businesses without constant interruption from the rain. It's the same world, but yet a very different world than ours. Monkeys in the trees shitting on their clean car when they go out to drive to work in the morning; cursing the monkeys - not a problem we encounter that much here in the States. Durban is alive with tourists now, a jewel on the Indian Ocean; and the tourist cruises are in full sway off the beautiful coast of Mozambique.

Here we are digging out from yet another in a string of snow storms. In the early morning darkness I look up at the sky and through the broken winter clouds I see the moon, almost full now, the first full moon of the decade - and a few stars. Not many stars through the mostly cloudy sky, and I live in a city now anyway. I think briefly of Neil Diamond's song about everyone in history, Alexander the Great and Jesus Christ, looking up at the same moon and regretting their lives being done so soon. I shiver and come back inside.


  1. It really irritates me when people can say little more than, "Great post!", but that's how I'm going to start.

    I used to live in the countryside where there were no street lights, no nearby towns. It wasn't until one of my sons came back from London one evening and gasped at the starry skies that I really appreciated what I could see. I pay more attention now.

    But while I'm looking, I'm not filled with regret. I think of all the people who share the same skies. I was outside taking photos of the same moon that made you shiver a few hours later.

    And I'll finish up by saying it again, "Great post".

  2. You conjure up some wonderful images, Mr Max. Captivating.

  3. I grew up in the country, but I don't remember the stars the same way. We had trees and remember seeing them through the trees. Or, the time of my life when I spent the most time outside, when I walked with my father for hours at night when I was in high school - but that was Las Vegas with more than it's share of ambient light.

    It IS beautiful out there. It is magical and I frequently get caught by the moon's beauty. Not even Vegas can dull the moon.

    I enjoyed this post.

  4. The stars have my heart, but the moon has my soul. I adore the nighty sky, be it cloudy, smoggy, star filled, or a black abyss.

  5. I grew up in a big city with lots of lights and lots of noise-but I also took to picking out the constellations that were bright enough for me to find.

    Then I took a trip to Arizona and we went up to Kit Peak and we saw some serious star watchers. Somewhere out in the friggin middle of nowhere I pulled over and we got out and looked at the sky.

    That whole bit about being small and being a part of something larger and just being amazed washed over us. It was a great view, as we could see the Milky Way with it's massive belt of stars all clustered together.

    I still pause when I am in the middle of nowhere and take a look, but none of them have had the same effect as that night in Arizona.

  6. Growing up in Manhattan, and going to school near smoggy Philadelphia, I never saw the stars. Though when I was a kid in NYC, I wanted very much to be an astronomer. Go figure, as they say.

    About 5 years ago I saw shooting stars in the country, in Northern Ontario, and it was truly amazing.

    Like A., at the risk of sounding trite, I liked your post very much.

  7. Yeah, sure, sure. Go out under the stars, good for your soul, etc. etc.
    Right until your soul is eaten by some crawling Mi-Go, devoured by the Color out of Space, or sent into gibbering madness by the King in Yellow, coming out of the wetly decaying light of the Hyades.

    Iä! Iä Ph'nglui mglw'nfah Cthulhu wgah'nagl ftaghn!

  8. @A. - Thank you. The night sky is something we tend to take for granted, but it is truly an awesome wonder. I can also still remember the first time I went on a grade school field trip to the marvelous planetarium down at Cranbrook. Next to the field trip to the Henry Ford Museum, it was a highlight of my elementary school career. :)

  9. @Sheila - Hey. Max the conjurer. I think I like that. :)

    @Stephanie B -The important thing is the memories. I like what said about being with your father. I love the moon too, and have probably hundreds of pictures. Almost as many pictures as I have of sunsets. Thanks for your comment.

    @Kell - Hi Kelly. I still don't know where to find you, but I'm glad you are stopping by again.

    You are a poet, you know that? :)

    @Descartes - I love your Arizona story. Recently I was driving to Phoenix and it was starting to get twilight as I began the descent into the valley and passed the cactus line. Suddenly, at almost dark, the sky turned a surreal Mars-like red and the saguaros were outlined from the side of the mountain with their arms reaching toward that red sky. I swear, I had to pull over to the shoulder in wonder. And couldn't find my camera. I think it was a sign to just LOOK. :)

  10. @Lidian - Nothing wrong with being an astronomer. Kind of romantic, I think. Never been too far north in Ontario, but plenty of farmland in the south. I wasn't sure you could see the same stars we could in Michigan. :) I never was caught there after dark though. Heh. I'm glad you share my love of the stars.

    I like your new avatar. Is it permanent?

    @Boris Legradic - I am ever aware of things that go bump (or gibber) in the night. But then, I'm the meanest sumbitch out there, so not so much. :)

    I'm sure you meant to say "mglw'nafh", though I know Cthulhu will still attend you. I personally rejoice that he sleeps.

    Ummmm... please don't take this the wrong way, but are you of Earth?



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