For the past several weeks, seeing Venus from my bedroom window has meant it is time to rise. Venus’ position will eventually change, but I have enjoyed my temporary celestial clock. Last autumn, deep in wilderness, I marveled at another clock — Orion’s rising over a calm boreal lake. I’m at the age where I need to get up at least once a night, and by noting Orion’s elevation, I knew the time, not in hours, but quite adequate for my purposes. And the reflection was stunning, worth standing on the cold ground at 2 a.m.
I wear a watch and have several clocks and calendars around the house. But I find great comfort to use distant timepieces that run on an ancient cycle nearly as old as the Earth itself. I believe that looking up at the night sky is a deeply primal human act. By doing so, I join more than a thousand generations of my forebears back to the dawn of man. All gazed upward, often in wonder, often wondering. Some got up with the sun, others like me, with Venus. I know more about the universe than my ancestors, but I still question and I still wonder, just as they did. I am a child of the stars, my body made from recycled star bits, each element created long ago in the crucible of a now extinct nuclear furnace, whose explosive demise spewed carbon, calcium, sodium, magnesium and iron into the cosmos.
In these uncertain times, I find solace in the constancy of celestial cycles. Every autumn, I admire the sweeping arc of Andromeda in the northeastern sky. In winter, I enjoy the multitude of bright stars. Arcturus and Spica herald spring, as surely as the return of a White-winged Dove. Scorpius, Sagittarius and the Milky Way adorn the sky on hot summer evenings. The stars arrive on schedule every year, and it is reassuring to know they will appear on time, no matter what is occurring in my life.
Long ago, watching the Moon appear over a distant mountain ridge, I mentally fixed it in place, so instead of viewing “Moonrise” I saw “Earthturn,” our planet’s actual rotation. When I change my perspective in other aspects of life, I also see things that I hadn’t once appreciated. The Sun, stars, planets and Moon are my calendar, clock and in many ways my teacher. Each of us was born, passed through youth and adulthood, and will eventually die. I feel honored and blessed to belong to such a grand scheme, here and now, connected by the sky and its rhythms to those who preceded me and to those who will follow.