“The man in the street does not know a star in the sky. The solstice he does not observe, the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind.”– Emerson
A few times I’ve felt really connected to Marcus Aurelius, the long dead emperor of Rome, because he knew how hard it was to get up in the morning, because he knew what it was like to deal with A-holes at work, and now because we share a love of the stars.
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”― Marcus Aurelius
Book 7, 47 – Watch the stars in their courses as one that runs about with them therein; and think constantly upon the reciprocal changes of the elements, for thoughts on these things cleanse away the mire of our earthly life.
I don’t usually stay up late, tonight I was awoken just before falling asleep, by a star 60,000 times brighter than our sun. Deneb (19th of the 21 brightest stars), it rises right into my bedroom window (Northeast), often waking me up… but before reading “The Friendly Stars” by Martha Evans Martin and Donald Howard Menzel, I never tried to figure out which it was. It’s part of the Northern Cross, but to me it’s part of the swan, Cygnus, deneb meaning it’s tail. So it looks to be flying backwards which is weird, but it’s a beautiful star.
One legend of this star was that it was the king of the Gods, Jupiter visiting Leda as a swan, which I don’t know if that is disturbing or not, so I prefer to think of it just as a pretty swan who is not going to rape any maidens.
The light from Deneb takes 1400 years to reach us, so it was the year 621 AD when the light I saw tonight left it’s star. That was the year Mohammed made his night journey, Spain was under attack by the Visigoths and China established a bureau for porcelain manufacturing. Islam, mixed Spaniards and knickknacks were happening when the light left Deneb and it arrived to wifi, the pandemic and my first season of harvesting from our tiny farm.
It makes me feel small, but somehow timeless, to look at the stars and know them a little bit.
I got “the Friendly Stars” at a free book cart behind a thrift shop, it was copyrighted in 1907, 1934, 1964 and 1966 on my copy. So probably 45 years old… the poster was still in good shape. It seems to have been read before, but treated well. It seems like who had it first wanted to share a good thing to someone else, but that is kind of impossible to really know.
As a child I learned the big dipper, and Orion’s belt, and then most my life nothing more.
Then I came to the big island of Hawaii, and it was amazing, to see how many stars there are, to see the dust, to see the nebula, looking with the naked eye in the center of this island is very much like staring at the poster or magazine pictures and I had no idea what was always out there, just behind the haze.
Granted this is the best place on Earth, the atmospheric interference is the least due to many factors, but wow, the real night sky, with no telescope or binoculars, it’s breathtaking.
So I met Deneb tonight, though it’s woken me many times, so bright that if I see it on accident it’s hard to fall back asleep. Deneb is a super giant, millions and millions of miles away, yet I can see it myself, there is something strange about that, about seeing so little in the day and on Earth, but so far at night and through space.
There is something so soothing about this book written in 1962, that is before my mother was born, but during the time of my father’s childhood, it’s as if my grandmother was talking, a style of English I remember from reading old books, that has since died being replaced by yelling news screeching style that reminds me of the legends of Harpies more than anything else.
If I stand in the front yard and look towards the sky my bedroom window shows I can see Vega above the swan and Deneb, and off to the right above the trees the Eagle with Altair.
Without Time and Date’s online astronomy guide I wouldn’t have been sure of any of the stars, but it makes it much easier, it can be used with your zip code and show you what stars are in each direction through out time to show if it’s worth it to stay up or wake up to catch a planet or star of interest.
When I started writing the Eagle was over my front yard, but since then Pegasus has risen there in the Northeast, stars rise in the East and set in the West as the sun (also a star) does.
“By the middle of the first summer month there is a lull in the noisy rush of the on-coming season. The dazzling blossoms of the fruit trees are scattered and almost forgotten, while the tiny green outlines of the fruit are quietly swelling towards their perfect form. The leaves on the forest trees have assumed their proper shape and are gradually expanding to full size. The old-fashioned annual roses are in their fullest glory. The blue jays have become stealthy and quiet; and most of the birds, while still in full song, have given over the frolicsome hilarity of the spring for the serious work of the nesting-time. Then there comes a soft June evening, with its lovely twilight that begins with the last song of the wood-thrush and ends with the first strenuous admonitions of the whippoorwill; and, almost as if it were an impulse of nature, one walks to the eastern end of the porch and looks for Altair.”– Martha Evens Martin
Altair comes at the beginning of summer, it is 11 times brighter than our sun, the light takes 17 years to reach us, so when the light left Altair that I saw tonight I was a struggling college student 18 years old… about to go from one bad relationship I thought would last forever to another bad relationship I thought would last forever. Life was hard for me, I worked full time, went to class full time, I wanted much more from myself than I could do. I wanted to have all the wisdom I would someday have, immediately. I wanted to know my place in the world and not waste time making mistakes. I wanted to give and be a lot more than I could. I didn’t know how to enjoy the journey at that time. If I could go back, I would pick that age, it was a painful and disappointing age for me.
I was able to see Antares, which is due South, right out my front door, and is red, which is kind of wonderful. Antares is visible all night in June (and only in June). Antares is a red giant, 5,000 brighter than our sun, in it’s same place Earth’s position would be inside the star since it is larger than our sun. The light is about 400 years old… the Dutch East India company was slaughtering 15,000 indigenous people, Spanish conquistadors were founding cities in Venezuela and the first treaty between the Native Americans and pilgrims was signed… the age of colonialization was dawning when the red light from that beautiful star left to reach me tonight.
Vega was the only blue star I saw tonight, it’s whitish blue, but from my location, still unmistakably blue. 50 times brighter than our sun, it wakes me up when I see it at night, like Denub… it’s light 27 years old, so, I was about 8 years old when it left it’s star. My parents were just about divorced though my mom had already been dating around, for a long time… it would be the first year I saw a therapist. It wasn’t a good time for me, though my parents always fought and the divorce brought more peace, it broke the façade of a happy family that we sometimes publicly pretended to have. The rupture of our family 27 years ago, has never been healed, we are a collection of individuals some more broken and some less, but definitely lacking a unity based on the (in our case) disproven idea that “family is forever”. Vega is sometimes thought of as a harp (Lyre/Lyra) and other times a vulture. One thing I forgot about that year, was that it was the first time I noticed the stars, raised in the bright lights of Honolulu, I didn’t see the stars until spending that summer in the mountains with my grandparents. I took it for granted at that age, but didn’t make the time to look at the stars again for about 20 years… even though there have been there every night, we just don’t “have time” to look do we?
The last star was Draco, the dragon star which a long time ago was the pole star and still stays so far North it’s almost always there. It’s orange light takes us back 148 years to when Ulysses S. Grant was the U.S. president and the wars against the natives were ongoing.
So when the light left the red star Antares, the US was at peace with the natives, grateful and with good intentions, when the light left the orange star Draco (gamma), the US was wiping out the last major resistance of the natives, and when I was growing up as the light left the blue star Vega, most of the native population and culture had been wiped out of existence many places across the globe. When the light left Altair I thought love was everything, and now as I’m older and I look at these stars I notice that perspective really changes, as the dragon stars were once the pole stars and are no longer, so too do things change.
Love is still something, perhaps something important, but it’s not everything to me.
A lot of bad things have been done either in the name or in the company of love, love is something special and valid, yet I hope someday our species attains peace as well on a global scale and a lasting time frame.