Counting Stars

I walked home from work last night and because a clear sky at this time of the year is something of a rarity in Vancouver, I dawdled so I could enjoy the incredible view of burning stars and golden moon.  My slow walk brought home the fact that we are surrounded by awe and wonder.

Take for example Rosetta’s (European spacecraft) successful landing on a speeding comet yesterday.  This is an extraordinary achievement and yet another leap for mankind.

Why should this audacious achievement excite me or you?  Well for one that washing machine- sized explorer is about to help us re-write history and what we know of ourselves.

Images of Rosetta landing on 67P (couldn’t they name it after a nice Greek nymph? one of the many ravaged by the insatiable Zeus? I wonder) are a reminder that we are constantly redefining our limits.

The Night Sky also brought back a flood of memories.  On warm and warm(ish) evenings my sister and I would drag one of our mattresses out into the backyard where we would lie, sometimes in our pyjamas, sometimes in our bathing suits, to watch countless worlds spin and sparkle before our eyes.

Night time was particularly exciting because it was quiet – except for the crickets and cicadas (also known as Christmas beetles) – and the adults were in bed because as everyone knows adults are scared of the dark.  One of my most treasured possessions was an encyclopedia with a map of the Southern Skies.  I would pore over those pages with a torch and read out loud the names of constellations – Canis Major, Scorpius, Centaurus – and we would point to – well, anywhere in the sky – and link random stars and proudly tick off a constellation in my encyclopedia.

The encyclopedia told us stars are balls of gas but that didn’t stop us from imagining they were much more. Many we knew even then, were worlds.  Some undoubtedly inhabited by lizard men and robots.   We wondered if from our small backyard, we could spot the remnants of that great planet Krypton after the explosion.   Wouldn’t pieces of that great planet glow green in our night sky?

We tried counting stars.  But neither one of us could figure out how many zeros fit into a million back then.  Now that I’m older and a little more learned I happen to know words like quadrillion actually exist but I can’t bear to think of all those zeros!

It’s impossible to manipulate stars. You can’t make them explode by willing them to, like you can clouds.  A cloud is a temporary and fluffy thing with no fixed course or firm hold.  We used to lie there, rubbing the sides of our temples and will those stars to go ‘POOF!’ because we imagined we had that power.  The first time we saw a shooting star we ran into the house and hid for cover under the kitchen table.  It was our first experience with God.

And the first time we spotted a satellite tracing it’s slow arc across the sky we shook our mother awake and announced the imminent arrival of Martians.  My mother told us it was way past our bedtime and we had to drag the mattress back inside.

No one had told us we could wish upon a falling star in those early years.  We only found that out later.  Certainly wishing on stars was not a tradition in our family.

How many wishes were lost? Countless.

Interacting Galaxies

Nasa Image of Interacting Galaxies

 I try to make up for it now by watching the Perseids and Leonids (coming soon to a Night Theatre near you Nov 16) meteor showers

 

Do you enjoy the night sky?  

What is your favourite night time memory?

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37 thoughts on “Counting Stars

  1. I can’t even spot the north star but my husband is very good at that. He knows all the constellations and even sees what they are named after. As for me, it’s just a bunch of dots. It helps when there is wine served with the stars or at least hot chocolate.

  2. How lucky you are to be able to walk home from work, Yolanda. If I walked home, I would risk getting robbed, attacked or worse. I have to travel through an unsafe area of downtown to get to and from my job.
    I love to star gaze. Our house is away from the city, so we have some great opportunities to enjoy the night sky. I’ll never forget years ago, while traveling from Pennsylvania back to Virginia, after a Bruce Springsteen concert, we pulled over into a field and watched the most spectacular meteor shower I’ve ever seen.

    • I feel incredibly privileged to live where we do now (but a big move is coming up so am dreading that). What a wonderful experience Jill – and super romantic! Some of our most memorable getaways involved watching the skies while on safari (no pollution or artificial lights for miles and miles). Unfortunately it is incredibly hard to see the meteor showers here because Vancouver is often ‘clouded over’ but I keep hoping we’ll get lucky 😉

    • Wow! I had to interject and say, this was an incredible and fantastic experience, Jill. This really made me feel you were ‘meant’ to see the meteor shower, after such a powerful concert. Like God was saying, “I have something to show you!” Bruce’s performances are so mighty that it would have to take this night sky “show” to compare with the songs! smiles!

  3. What a wonderful collection of memories to have from your childhood Yolanda! And an encyclopedia for reference too – No wonder you are still fascinated by the sky and our forays into it.

    I love the night sky too – I am awed by the vastness of it and the smallness of us and nearly always come back to reality via Carl Sagan’s words in ‘The Pale Blue Dot’.

    • LOL I used to carry that encyclopedia with me all over the place (it was a picture filled Children’s Encyclopedia). I am pretty sure I was an obnoxious child because I was forever trying to ‘educate’ other children 😉 Pauline you reminded me of just how much I ADORED Carl Sagan. I used to watch every episode of Cosmos.

      • I like a child with a passion – they generally grow up to be interesting adults!

        I never saw the TV show, but we had the big book from it – I suspect my eldest still has it! I think his early death was a real loss to us!

  4. I love the night sky! I check it out most nights. We also love going to the Planetarium for star talks and shows. And watching meteor showers are great fun especially if the “shooting stars” are flying fast and furious.

    I hope the stars will keep you “grounded” as you get ready for your big move!

    • Thank you Nancy for the good wishes (I need every ounce of physical, emotional and mental strength for this move) 🙂 I love planetariums! which reminds me I haven’t been to one in a couple of years….have to fix that asap.

      • I find it so relaxing to recline in the Planetarium while touring the galaxies. Hope you find a few minutes to relax as you prepare for your pending move.

  5. Stargazer

    We used to run through the orange grove
    eyes shut tight, arms churning,
    trying to think like bats.
    Pretend to leap from tree to tree,
    breathless crouching jaguars.
    Stretch our backs on the warm earth,
    taste the orange air,
    blot out the stars with our hands,
    become the last survivors at the edge of the universe.

    Tonight the sky is cold, hard as diamond.
    I press my back to the ground
    feel its familiar warmth.
    The grove still seasons the air.
    Eyes open, hands behind head,
    looking up through true darkness,
    having survived too long at the edge of all things,
    I no longer desire to blot out the stars.

  6. I often peek out the window when I’m up in the night. The sky is sometimes so inky blue that it looks like the stars are burning bright holes through a sumptuous velvet cloak. It is a wonder – what really is out there? We’re definitely not alone ….

    • I think it unlikely and highly improbable that we’re alone Jenny. It would be something wouldn’t it if we were to make contact with an alien race – I sometimes wonder how we -humanity – would react to the news that we are not spinning alone in this limitless universe…

  7. Oh Yolanda, I want to go camping with you (providing you can promise there will be no snakes!) I hadn’t taken on board that you lived in Vancouver for some reason. I love it there, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited. I have a friend, English, with a Canadian husband. We met in hospital when I had my first boy and she had her second daughter, born the same night, 32 years ago…yikes! Anyway, they moved to Ontario for a few years and then settled in Vancouver. We drove up to visit them when we lived in California, stopping off at Mount Shasta to camp. They used to take their RV down to us every summer. We always used to say we lived ‘just down the 101’ from one another. Anyway, I digress. What I also have to say is this: I love the night sky and always wanted a telescope. One day…and thanks for the heads up about the meteor shower. I am still in awe of shooting stars. The most incredible display we saw recently was in rural France in the summer. No light pollution there, the sky as clear as crystal. I felt just like the little girl you describe here, so beautifully, looking up at the stars with your sister on your mattresses, ‘experiencing God’. And yes, Rosetta. Incredible. I lap this stuff up. Wonderful post Yolanda, a veritable feast of wild imaginings for me this 🙂

    • I ❤ Vancouver. Mountains, sea, fresh air. I am glad you have visited because you will understand why I am dreading moving and we will be moving again in the New year….ah well. Sherri I just know you and I would have a wonderful camping trip 😀 Since I believe you have not yet seen a bear up close and I, for some reason, attract wild animals to me (I think I have to write about my encounter with elephants and that other time with the waterbuck…) we would have a WILD and marvellous time! So glad you enjoyed this post ❤

      • Oh Yolanda, I would absolutely love that…a bear, wow! Yes, you are right about that, never yet seen one. But I also adore elephants, one of my travel dreams is to see a heard of elephants in the wild, as on a safari. That is my absolute life’s ambition. You must write about that, and the waterbuck too 🙂 Oh what an amazing time we would have, yes 😀 But I am so sorry you are moving again…somewhere nice I do hope. And yes I did…loved your post 🙂 ❤

  8. I enjoy when you talk about your childhood, Yolanda. I remember lying in dewy grass on a warm summer night and enjoying the peacefulness of the skies and heavens. The space ships and our traveling with different vehicles really mean a lot to me, too. It is important to keep exploring, everywhere we can! I walk to the library every night after work, to write a post or comment on others. Sometimes, I am sporadic in my writing, sometimes I get side-tracked by nature, family and life. Your pensiveness in this post, your walking home all made me feel very serene today.

    • Glad to hear you are a ‘walker’ too Robin and a library user! (makes my heart very glad) 🙂 Sadly many of us drive out of necessity but there are some who could walk but choose not to and that makes me sad because walking is the best exercise – good for the heart and the mind 🙂 There are many reasons why I love stargazing and space. I think if more of us looked up more often ‘things’ would fall into perspective.

      • The songs of Christmas time feature stars of wonder, since some believe they guided others, shepherds and wise men alike to the manger. I just think the sky is so marvelous, that like you, I feel things seem to fall into place. Calmness descends, maybe since we are just so small and our mistakes of the day ‘hold no weight’ to the enormous universe…
        I read about your move, but wish to express my best wishes for this endeavor and hope it all goes smoothly for you and yours! smiles!

      • Thank you for the wishes Robin. I will of course post more on our pending move once hubby and I have finalized every detail. I expect ‘every detail’ will be finalized at the end of Dec 🙂

  9. Oh I loved reading about your night time memories, I can just imagine you and your sister on that mattress and the wonder you must have felt. My favourite experience of the stars was when we went on a trip around the Turkish coast on a traditional wooden gullet. We saw so many shooting stars and sometimes slept out on the deck in the open air, just watching the sky before we fell asleep.

  10. Looking at the night sky is one of ,my favourite pastimes, Yolanda. I’ve even set up a corner on the front veranda of the RUC with a big lounge on it so I can lie there at night and watch the stars. I’ve seen so many satellites and shooting stars – it’s amazing. I’ve even seen a ufo and my neighbor has seen one as well 😀

    • I can just see you on that front veranda of the RUC with that great open sky above and before you Dianne 🙂 I’m convinced I saw a ufo too when I was teen (and in a different part of the country) in fact I suspect I have seen more than one but when you watch the sky long enough you try to find more ‘plausible’ explanations.

  11. Such beautiful memories Yolanda, thank you for sharing them! I laughed about the name I the asteroid, there are so many better more poetic names to use. Silly scientists!

    I love a really dark night when the sky is a sea of stars and you can tip your head back and see all of them swimming above you, and you lose all perspective for a moment, as if you’re hanging upside down off the earth, which we kind of are in a way 🙂
    -Dana

    • Exactly Dana 🙂 isn’t it extraordinary how we don’t feel like we are hurtling through space and also just how small we are in the grand scheme of things…Thank you for reading xx

  12. So many lovely memories are shared here. Thank you Yolanda, for in doing so you’re bringing them back to me as well. I enjoy your writing style. It’s playful and refreshingly imaginative.
    I’m a big fan of stargazing!! Have a few books on star constellations and astronomy. I once did a sort of short summer camp/workshop at one of the observatories in my country. So fascinating! I used to have a big telescope and I just loved to look at the moon and make up stories about who would live up there. I have countless memories and stories of stargazing but the most memorable one was during my honeymoon in the Pacific islands. Untouched by urban light pollution we got to see some of the most amazing constellations. The milky way unfolding…just spectacular! You may have inspired me to write a blogpost about it Yolanda 😉

  13. Yolanda this post has a dream like quality. We use to sleep out on the trampoline and watch for falling stars. I missed the stars when I moved to the city. When I moved back to the country there they were in all their glory. Truly something to be grateful for, thanks for the reminder of fun childhood memories. Kath.

    • Thank you Kath 🙂 Lucky lucky lady! I wish we were in the country too! although we kinda are living on a forested mountain across from the city…but it is a rainforest so lots of cloud cover.

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