When I took the dog out for his nightly 10 p.m. walk tonight, I had a clear view of the big and little dippers, Orion, and the north star, all among the most recognizable stars in the sky. I wasn’t sure about the little dipper until I remembered that the two stars that form the front edge of its cup point vaguely toward the north star, which reminded me, as I followed a path from the north star to the big dipper, that the little dipper pours into the big dipper. And sure enough, when I had traced a path back to the big dipper from the north star, there the little guy was, apparently having spilled its inky contents over the peaceful dome of the night.
I remember these intersections of the constellations from my childhood. My parents were really into star gazing and took us out for all the would-be remarkable astronomical events. There was Haley’s Comet, for example, probably about 20 years ago. This was a big deal for my parents because the comet only appears about every 76 years, so this was their only shot at getting a good look at it. I remember going way out in the country in the middle of the night, stopping by corn fields (on a snowy evening?), and passing the binoculars around among the four of us. As I recall, the comet was very disappointing, looking at best like a white blur rather than the spectacular flame-tailed hurtling mass I had been expecting. In spite of the let-down of the comet itself (more of a let-down for my mom, I’m sure, as I’ll have a chance to see the comet again when they pull me out of my cryogenic storage tank and thaw me in another 55 or so years), I can’t help remembering this short period fondly. There’s something special to a kid about being not only allowed, but encouraged, to creep about in the dark six hours past bedtime. And there’s something that seems very right, very lucky, to an adult, about having had parents who fostered in him a sense of curiosity about his surroundings, whether or not he rewarded it by going on to hang a dozen Nobel prizes on their mantle.
My primary memory of Orion has to do with my having been really sort of socially inept and lost in the 50s (30 years too late) as a kid. A childhood friend and I were at some church function — a lock-in, maybe, something that has us at the church at night. Maybe we were there after choir practice. We looked up at the sky and I happened to see Orion. I believe I had been watching a lot of The Andy Griffith Show at the time. And I believe there had been an episode recently in which Andy had said “I see X,” where “X” was either Orion or some person he was happy to see. Whether or not this was the case, I have the distinct impression that I was either impersonating that warm, toothy greeting or that I afterward thought I had sounded rather like Andy Griffith as I crooned “I see Or-eye-uhhhn.” The friend laughed at me. This was the same friend — the sort of friend to whom, in later years, I was a buddy when we were alone but a marginal sort of footstool figure when other of his friends were around — who insisted that I be Daisy when we were playing The Dukes of Hazzard and there were enough of the more important friends around to fill the roles of Beau and Luke, Uncle Jesse, Boss Hawg, and Roscoe P. Coltrane. (Or Roscoe Picole Train, as I always sort of thought it was based on the character’s own pronunciation.)
I like the word “Orion.” It packs a wallop if you break it down and reassemble it in various ways. It contains the distinct words “or,” “rio,” “ion,” and “on,” for example. And if you read it from right to left (as I automatically do with many words, such as TUMS, which chalky antacid tablets I could eat by the gross but which name bothers me because I see SMUT almost before I see the actual product name), you get that lovely French word “noir.” I suspect that if you tried hard enough, you could come up with a pretty good palindrome about Orion in the (French) black night sky.
This all (in a roundabout way) puts me in mind of a couple of poems I reencountered recently when revisiting Hardy:
Shut Out That Moon
Close up the casement, draw the blind,
Shut out that stealing moon,
She wears too much the guise she wore
Before our lutes were strewn
With years-deep dust, and names we read
On a white stone were hewn.
Step not out on the dew-dashed lawn
To view the Lady’s Chair,
Immense Orion’s glittering form,
The Less and Greater Bear:
Stay in; to such sights we were drawn
When faded ones were fair.
Brush not the bough for midnight scents
That come forth lingeringly,
And wake the same sweet sentiments
They breathed to you and me
When living seemed a laugh, and love
All it was said to be.
Within the common lamp-lit room
Prison my eyes and thought;
Let dingy details crudely loom,
Mechanic speech be wrought:
Too frangrant was Life’s early bloom,
Too tart the fruit it brought.
I Look Up from My Writing
I looked up from my writing,
And gave a start to see,
As if rapt in my inditing,
The moon’s full gaze on me.
Her meditative misty head
Was spectral in its air,
And I involuntarily said,
“What are you doing there?”
“Oh, I’ve been scanning pond and hole
And waterway hereabout
For the body of one with a sunken soul
Who has put his life-light out.
“Did you hear his frenzied rattle?
It was sorrow for his son
Who is slain in brutish battle,
Though he has injured none.
“And now I am curious to look
Into the blinkered mind
Of one who wants to write a book
In a world of such a kind.”
Her temper overwrought me,
And I edged to shun her view,
For I felt assured she thought me
One who should drown him too.
Hardy’s view of the evening sky is somewhat gloomier than what I’ve had called to mind tonight. He was 69 and 77 when he wrote these poems and had been through a bunch of wives and several wars (of which the current one was World War I). I hope his bitterness is a function of his personality and not of age in general.
I couldn’t close an entry entitled “Star Gazing” without mention of one Hollywood star or another. Tonight I cast my net toward Paris Hilton, not out of any especial fascination with her or her naughtiness, but because of others’ fascination with her. It appears that my referer logs (the logs that tell me what sites people click from to get here) are being spammed with links to various sites peddling promises of Paris Hilton’s home video. It’s not that I generate enough sordid content that my site is of high relevance to those in search of Paris (but then, neither are my compositions to be found in the old Norton anthology alongside Hardy’s) but that people are faking referers to my site so that their links will be visible to my reader, or both of them.