Sunday, January 20, 2008

Starry, Starry Night

One of the pleasures of living in Southern California is the close proximity of the desert. Camping overnight a Joshua Tree makes you aware of stars as you can never be inside of Los Angeles. The clear, dry sky shows vast numbers of lights, ranging from tiny twinkles that you cannot be sure exist to sparklers of red, blue, and white tint that no one could miss. The Milky Way is a lot like spilled milk on such a night, connected across the sky, but spilling out of bounds and then shrinking back to a narrower path. You can’t help thinking yourself along it, the yellow brick road in the sky. It doesn’t look like stars at all, they are too numerous, too diffuse. Constellations are easier to see than in LA, but draped with mysterious sweeps of light or smaller, dimmer stars.

The first thing a new desert camper must exclaim is “Wow, there are so many stars.” After staring up for a while, the next exclamation is “They’re moving.” Yes, and no. They are moving but what we’re seeing is the changing perspective on them as the earth rotates. You don’t notice that in LA because the sky is so big and the stars so few that you can’t stand to keep watching long enough to see them “move” at all.

Have you had an experience in which the stars suddenly come into your consciousness, camping in the desert or going out to the car and looking up?