By Eilene Lyon
I adore the Don McLean song of that name, and the Van Gogh painting that inspired it. Most of all, I love the starry night itself – the one I’m privileged to enjoy just by walking out my bedroom door at night.
I live in what you would classify as a “dark-sky” zone. None of my neighbors shine outdoor lights at night. Once everyone has gone to bed, the only electric lights visible from my home are across the valley at the gas compressor station. I wish everyone had this view from their home.
Image from NASA, showing my dark part of the country
On a night when the moon has yet to rise, the Milky Way spills across the sky, a misty path to the secret depths of the universe.
Our ancestors knew the stars like a road map, the same way we now navigate by gas stations, freeway exits, and Subway sandwich shops. Whether at sea or on land, they could find their way at night by looking to the heavens.
I was taught the importance of the North Star for navigation – it was true north, and the brightest star in the sky. That is a lie – the bright part.
As I stood on my deck last night, Orion beamed at me from the southwest, like Donald Trump on Fox News. Cassiopeia was prominent to the northwest. Due west, Venus glowed like a neon sign. Above it, the Pleiades ladies were a faint, but visible cluster.
North, and nearly overhead, the Big Dipper, aka Ursa Major, was as prominent as the black bear that tore our front porch rail off to get at our hummingbird feeder (couldn’t he have just come up the stairs?!).
But the North Star, the Little Dipper, are barely discernable, even in this dark place. What are we supposed to see? How could someone have picked this faint light out from all the others to be a guide? How did someone see something so special that no else noticed before?