I See Beauty and Stuff

Moonless night now here on the upper floor of the Earth. I step out into the darkness, into the humming cloudless night, and they are all there. All the names I know, and even more I’ve forgotten. Polaris, constant enough for our sorry lifespans. Antares, heart of the scorpion, named for what it isn’t. How would you like your name to be “Not John”? Alkaid, shining at the end of the handle of the Big Dipper. The name is Arabic, and means “the base” or “the fortress”. The street I used to live on was named for that star. Osama bin Laden also took a shine to the word.

Cassiopeia lies along the Milky Way, stretching her wings across the galaxy behind. As my eyes embrace the darkness she is almost lost among the clamor and light. The bears are there, diminished in reputation by the dippers they support. Draco, I never could pick out. It seems to be all the leftover stars that couldn’t fit into any other shape.

Arching almost directly overhead is the Milky Way. I look and try to turn that mysterious band into a disk of countless stars, but it is too much for me. There are enough stars I can see already.

Across the backdrop of the untouchable infinite crosses the works of man. High above but almost close enough to touch pass the blinking rumbling jetliners, crossing the sky but not daring to leave a trail behind them. The stars will not tolerate such impudence tonight. Another light moves across the sky, brightly lit as it crosses the plane of the galaxy then quickly fading. After a few seconds I lose sight of it, but I keep trying to look sideways where I think it might be, hoping to catch a hint of motion out of the corner of my eye. Whatever it was, it was big, and far above the atmosphere. ISS, I have chosen to believe. I could look it up, but I’m not going to.

Earlier tonight, driving back from a shopping run (the store closed early), our local star had just dipped below the horizon, carelessly leaving behind a rich sky full of pink and lavender. The ponds I passed stole from that palette and shamelessly reproduced it. The grass, green and haughty and still filled with the rain I had called forth, chose to contrast the colorful solar residue rather than echo it, which just made it all the better for me. I drove too fast, choosing to skim across the tops of the washboard ruts. It was good. It was thus with fondness that I said bon soir to out giant plasmic meatball, and welcomed the night.

Alone in the dark, more air below my feet than above my head, the stars blazed forth, barely bothering to twinkle. The hum of night insects surrounded me, supplemented by the vague, uncertain alarmism of Spike, who has obviously been paying too much attention to the government lately. Better to bark and have your ass kicked than to simply have your ass kicked.

The stars, and, strangely, no planet that I could identify (except Earth), continued on their vast journeys, unaware or our ridiculous fears.

9 thoughts on “I See Beauty and Stuff

  1. I think that since their big get-together in March, all the planets have gone their separate ways.

    Last summer, with Archer’s help, I was able to see something I had not knowingly seen before — spy satellites. They’re in polar orbit, and in the summer, their paths run roughly parallel to the Milky Way. The ISS is in a relatively low orbit, so it’s only visible near sunset and sunrise, when the sun is shining on it and not on the part of the Earth where the observer is standing. Spy satellites are higher up and therefore illuminated more of the time, but since they’re small, they’re very difficult to see even in very dark conditions.

    Archer had his telescope along when he came to Five O’Clock Somewhere, and he set it up nightly. He was especially pleased with the very dark sky, darker than anything he’d seen before (it has since become darker, since the neighbors across the road have replaced their mercury-vapor security light with a sodium one). He was able to focus on a whole lot of obscure nebulae, globular clusters, double stars, planetary moons, and more.

  2. The big dog I saw floating across the heavens was not in a polar orbit, so it could have been anything. It probably was too long after sunset for ISS. I could go to the nasa page and check, but I’m not too sure what time it was when I was out there. Clocks and things like that just seem so… previous life.

    Although the disregard that the Chama Supermarket has for clocks prevented me from replenishing some of your supplies that I’ve gone through while up here.

  3. Also, some of you may think the phrase ‘giant plasmic meatball’ sounds familiar. That’s because I stole it from Edward Abbey.

    Man that guy could turn a phrase. If you haven’t already, you should read The Fool’s Progress, a different kind of road novel with a different kind of hero. It’s an amazing book, but not an easy read as Henry Lightcap is not a terribly likeable fellow. Slowly, however, you begin to understand.

  4. About this time of year, the Chama Valley Supermarket changes from “summer hours” (open until 7, or 5 on Sundays) to “winter hours” (open until 5, or 4 on Sundays).

    Gerald just got a reading list from his Great Books teacher. There are about 100 on the list; Gerald is to pick his top 5 choices, and then the teacher will assign him three to read (everybody in the class has to read something different). One of the books on the list is The Monkey Wrench Gang; it’s one of his choices.

  5. The Monkey Wrench Gang is a good book, but in one of his nonfiction books Abbey once wrote that just once in his life he wanted to write an honest novel.

    The full title is “The Fool’s Progress: An Honest Novel.”

    And it is.

  6. Is this one of the books you gave me? I’m afraid to turn the light on in there and wake the sleeping giant. I have read almost all of them. Maybe we just talked about it?

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