You know, I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the days here in the northern hemisphere are getting longer and brighter as we move toward the vernal equinox. These days we’re getting about as much daylight as we do a couple of weeks into October. So, there was still a good amount of light left this evening, when I realized we needed some beer and eggs (it’s an old family recipe for omelets, okay?) and I decided to take a walk down the hill.
On the way back up, with long shadows of tall trees pointing the way, the sky was clear and I could see the top of my own house further up the hill. The sky was clear with just one bulb twinkling in the thickening blue over my living room. Was it Jupiter? Jupiter is very bright these days, but no, it was too early. It was bluish-white; I had to stop and look for a minute. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that type of sky. Fully dark skies are a luxury during the winter months. The stars are bright, the constellations big, and the nights are dark enough early enough that the everything is right out there for you from the late afternoon, easy to read. Without the context of the other stars, I was lost.
A couple of cars zipped past me as I looked, and before long, to the upper right, there was an orange light. Another cold bluish-white one to the lower right. A couple of crows flew by and then there were three more stars. As night fell and my eyes adjusted, the stars appeared, popped into place, one by one, and the story filled in. The first star I saw was Sirius, the brightest one in the night sky. After that were Betelgeuse and Rigel, the brightest in Orion, with Aldebaran, Castor and Pollux following the crows.
When you see things the same way over time, it’s easy to forget how easily and quickly things change. I didn’t realize it right away, but as the stars popped into place I realized I was looking at the Winter Circle, which is now more south than east at night, as it makes its inevitable trip toward disappearing for the summer. Slowly, and predictably, these things change, but without taking the time to stop and see things from a bit of a different perspective, it’s easy to forget that they’re happening. Before we know it, one night, those stars will set in the west and then be gone until they rise again in fall’s eastern skies, washed away in the summer sun’s glare like footsteps on a beach. It’s easy to become settled and forget about calm moments like these when even something that we see moving so slowly on a human scale as to be barely perceptible, reveals itself just a bit differently and gives us a gift of perspective. I have some very strong memories of seeing stars win out over the dimming sunlight as night falls, but even after all these years, it’s like seeing the show again for the first time.
I started back up the hill, and watched the rest of the circle fill in. I watched as Procyon and Capella turned on, and then the lights in my kids’ bedroom.