Archive for the ‘stars’ Category

autumn song

September 26, 2019

Out of a kind of desperation to avoid rifling through the list of my personal woes, I’ve started reading a copy of Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being I purchased from the friends of Richmond County Library a month ago.  I was drawn to it since it was the first collection of Virginia Woolf’s writing I acquired some few years earlier than my senior year at UC Berkeley where/when I would write my honors thesis on The Waves.  I think it was the title which, combined with the patina of Woolf’s high-brow literary rep, drew the “young” me to purchasing it those many decades past, although I can’t recall feeling much affinity with her writing at the time.

What is ringing through me now is a section from her “A Sketch of the Past.”

From this I reach what I call a philosophy; at any rate it is a constant idea of mine; that behind the cotton wool is hidden a pattern; that we – I mean all human beings – are connected with this; that the whole world is a work of art; that we are parts of the work of art.  Hamlet or a Beethoven quartet is the truth about this vast mass that we call the world.  But there is no Shakespeare, there  is no Beethoven; certainly and emphatically there is no God; we are the words; we are the music; we are the thing itself.

Awake this morning sometime around 5:30, I went out to greet the Moon & Regulus rising over the river.  As I sat with my 2 black cats in the dark, I was entranced by the songs of the night insects.  I thought of how few the days and hours that they have left before winter arrives.  That they know or don’t doesn’t signify:  they sing because they are here.  They are the music, while they’re on Earth, just as we are.  When one – or all – are finished, the next generation will take up the singing.  A listener such as myself may not notice the relay, but that act too is part of the symphony.

Over three decades ago to this very day, I began a friendship that most likely will not last another year’s journey around our modest sun.  What the insects’s song reminds me, however, is that my friend’s magic existed in the world before he arrived.  It awaited him to take up his role in weaving the song, to make his contribution, and it will be carried on by another after he is gone.  What is most precious about him – what compelled me to treasure him from the moment we met and to continue despite the ups-and-downs of our complicated relations – cannot disappear because it is inseparable from the essence of beauty and truth in this world and cannot be lost.

Of course, my sadness is ultimately, and embarrassingly, for myself.  My inability to grasp what chords I am going to contribute becomes more apparent when I view my life through the lens of my friend’s imminent passing.  Such questions as what will my song be and how much time will I have once I have found my voice tug me into wakefulness and push me out-of-doors at strange hours into the only world we have ever – and will ever – know.

solstice meditations

December 19, 2016

This morning as the dawn began to lighten the sky, I noticed a star bright enough to be noticeable not only in the approaching day’s light but also from inside my warm home. Earlier I’d ventured out to spot the Moon with Jupiter and Spica and knew Arcturus was watching over them too. But I had to guess at what star I was seeing now. I had a suspicion it was Vega, third brightest in our Northern hemisphere, and one of the three stars that comprise the Summer Triangle, that recognizable asterism high in the sky during the short nights of June, July, and August.

As I settled down to meditate, the thought that this could be Vega rising remained. Here I had almost made it to the darkest day of the year. Changes too numerous to recount have occurred over the past 12 months which offer both the opportunity for congratulation as well as for anxiety. Where will all this momentum deliver me? After all my efforts this year and with a deep knowledge of how difficult and draining this work can be, will I rise to those occasions that will be set before me next year and beyond?

My thoughts returned me to earlier in the year when I witnessed another set of familiar stars rising before dawn. As I stood in the cool August mornings awaiting sunrise, I would observe Orion climbing into the sky over Yellowstone and wonder: where would I be when the Earth made a few more revolutions and Orion was no longer haunting the dawn but traveling across the winter nights’ skies?

Now when I go out to hunt for answers in the New Mexico dawn, Orion is slipping low to the west as if exhausted by his long night’s trek. By the end of next April, he won’t linger long before he follows the sun’s setting, but in early August, he’ll return to the dawn’s skies no matter where I might be standing.

So Vega’s promise of summer is a whisper I can hear and feel deep in my bones. It reminds me that time doesn’t only run straight; it also runs in cycles. It reminds me that there are things I do know – the stars; how to recognize beauty and love; how to be patient with myself in order to allow every thing to unfold as it needs to. What wonderful gifts the night skies offer, especially on these long dark nights. They are shining affirmations of how we are connected to the universe, to our human cycles of ritual and tradition, and to those memories of ourselves that lie deep within.

december-solstice

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.