Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sleepless Sky

     Mistakes? I've made a few. Take that evening a few days ago. I was mowing hay just before dark. Turned the tractor radio on and caught a news broadcast on NPR. Big Mistake.
     I usually go for something soothing, calming towards nighttime. Listen to some music or read some natural history (Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain recently...highly recommended), maybe check out the Astronomy Picture of the Day or the latest 
Saratoga Woods and Waterways post. Leave the current events stuff for morning or, maybe, for not at all. The problem with hearing the news before sleeping is messed up sleep. My head hits the pillow but it's an echo chamber of "I can't believe he said that..." 
and "What are they thinking..." and "Those crooks, how can they get away with it..."
     Then I wake up in the wee hours with the same thoughts still bouncing around and no way to exorcise them. Well, maybe one way. Get up and go outside. Take a dose of sky therapy to calm the roil. That's what I did the other night. Turns out the world isn't such a mess after all. In fact, everything up there seemed just about perfect. Later, when I came back inside, I slept like a baby till morning. 

A screen shot of Sky and Telescope's star chart for August 5 around 3 am

     Venus is definitely the star of the late night show.  
Rising around three in the morning, it is dazzling in the eastern sky. Of course, it is not a 'star' at all but our closest planet neighbor. Higher up is ruby-tinted Mars, also outshining everything around it. And looking to the southwest you can see Jupiter and Saturn keeping each other company. The wild card in all of this is the moon, waxing and waning, constantly moving against the backdrop of the constellations. It was close to Mars on Sunday morning, the 9th, and will share the early morning with Venus on Saturday the 15th.
     On the night I was up the moon had already set so the sky was deeply dark with the Milky Way arcing from east to west overhead. The summer triangle stars of Vega, Altair and Deneb were past the zenith and the Big Dipper rested on the northern horizon. Tilting my head back and looking straight up I could see a fuzzy blur - not one star but many billions and the oldest light visible with just our eyes. It was the Andromeda galaxy and its photons had been zipping thru space for 2.5 million years before reaching earth and my sight.
     Beyond the planets and stars, August nights are noted for meteors and the Perseid shower will be at its peak on the 11th. Best to look in late evening before the moon rises and washes the sky with its light.

     I've been pretty much rooted in one place my entire life. On this night I stood naked (decency was dark and I have no close neighbors) beneath the canopy of sky and marveled at how this place still seemed fresh, still surprises. I've stood in the exact same spot and watched sunrises and sunsets, lighting storms and ice storms, eclipses and comets. A few days later I saw the remnants of a hurricane fall apart. The sun found an opening and used it to create a shimmering rainbow while painting the churning clouds orange-red. Breathtaking.
     Here's the thing...there's you and there's where you are. 
'Where you are' has a closet full of costumes. It's always changing...with the seasons, with the weather, even with the time of day. All you have to do is keep looking, stay curious, maybe grow your knowledge a little. Then your relationship with 'where you are' will never grow old. 

Greetings from Andromeda - web image

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Bye-Bye July

     August has the feel of a trail down the backside of a mountain. It's like we've just summited Mt. Summer and now we're dropping down into the deep valley of ... (Hint: do you remember where you left your snow-shovels?)
     But no need for melancholy. Like Bogart and Bergman in Casablanca, we can savor our memories. "We'll always have July." 

      I remember...

Holly's photo

     Long hot afternoons in the hay field...
     Then a river reward. An evening paddle shared with eagle and osprey,  heron and the call of a barred owl. The calming coolness of water.

     Twilight reveals Jupiter and Saturn rising and the smudge of a comet fading away. Finally, in soft darkness, sitting outside with a drink and music, watching the last few fireflies flash a goodbye to July. The girls sing about a Cruel Summer. Yes, for many it has been, but not without its rewards. 

Web image

     Summer is streaking by. Hope you enjoy the rest of it...