Archive for the ‘sisters’ Category

Stars, stars, stars, stars

September 14, 2015

Over the past few weeks, a bright star in the east has been shining higher, brighter and longer in the hours before dawn.  That’s our closest neighbor Venus who on August 15 met up with and then slipped behind the Sun and who will be gracing our morning skies all through the winter and spring until next June.  Last week I saw her shining with Mars and the waning crescent moon as I headed to work at the unreasonable hour of 6 am.  This morning I was able to watch her hang alone above the tall poplar trees in the yard until over thirty minutes after sunrise while I stood, cozy in my pajamas, warm cup of coffee in hand, marveling at her persistence in the brightening daylight.

All my young life I lived with a “Morning Star.”  My younger, and only, sister’s name, Danica, is the Czechoslovakian version of this phrase.  Only recently did my mother tell me that it had been the title of a Czech newspaper she’d seen during her brief residence in the heart of downtown San Francisco.  By then, presumably, my name had already been chosen from a Russian novel, so Danica was reserved as a possibility for the next baby, a girl born 2 weeks before my first birthday and 3 days before my mother’s twenty-third.  My sister grew to hate the uniqueness of her name, adding it to a growing list of injuries her mother had committed upon her.  Moving often made such a different name even more onerous, since each new person would mispronounce it, wonder at it, demand an explanation.  As an adult, my sister decided to rename herself “Jane,” a version of her middle name her parents had not given her, one plain and simple enough to require no explanation.

It’s probably not this slight coincidence of having a sibling named for a planet’s morning apparition that makes me love the night sky (does she feel a closer affinity for palm trees?), but it does remind me how closely we are kin to the universe, a helpful reminder since often I feel deeply separate from the lives of everyone else.  I derive such pleasure from seeing Orion’s belt from my front door or charting Sirius’s arc across the southern sky that I tremble to think of the day when I might return to an urban life and be unable to chart our planet’s turnings without the aid of the celestial globe.  As it is now, a long run of grey cloudy nights can leave me feeling unmoored.  As we turn from late summer into fall, it’s still possible to get outdoors at 3 or 4 am and lie back on the stone wall to gaze at the traces of Milky Way, the Great Square of Pegasus, and the beautiful cluster of the Pleiades and allow the anxieties that have awakened me to sift back down into the cosmic dust.  It’s comforting to know that Venus will be shining in the east before dawn, reminding us that we are in some deep way knitted together, making our various ways beneath the light of the stars, bits of stardust scattered far from home.

Here’s a Youtube link to a beautiful poem by Jo Shapcott about Callisto, the nymph turned into a constellation.  Punished for her pregnancy by the chaste and wrathful goddess of the Moon, Diana, Callisto was turned into a bear and torn apart by her own dogs.  Seeing her plight, the gods placed her in the sky as the Great Bear, Ursa Major, one of the few constellations that in the Northern Hemisphere never falls below the horizon.  Thanks to pbs.org which placed the fabulous National Gallery by Frederick Wiseman for free viewing on its site where I first heard this.