19 February 2013

As the Stars Grew Dim

This is what the covers of "my" Lord of the Rings looked like.  Put together they made a mural.  Fantastical and only an inspired notion - nothing to mar my own imaginings when I read the stories.  These books were as exciting and all-absorbing for me and my high school mates (and later college mates) as Ms. Rowling's Harry Potter books have been for more recent generations. 

But before I read the books, I learned of them under a brilliant star-filled sky.  Every summer when we were kids we visited my grandparents at the summer cabin in Northern Wisconsin.  Set in the midst of the Nicolet National Forest, The Cottage, as we called it, was within walking distance of two lakes: Seven Mile Lake and Lone Stone Lake; the latter named for the single massive boulder left by the glaciers as they retreated from the land.

Deep in the night we left our sleeping bags and went to the shores of Seven Mile Lake.  Huddled together, we looked up at the sky, long past the sunset shown below, but this was our view.

Seven Mile Lake - Wisconsin

My older sister Cee, she who loved and still loves the stars, brought out a high-intensity, narrow-beam flashlight.  Using it like a pointer, she showed us how to find the North Star.

And then outlined the constellations, showing how the two dippers were actually great and small bears.

And then began to tell us the tale of Hobbits, dragons, long journeys, and the great rings of power.  Beneath those stars all stories and all myth were possible.  So vivid were the stories that when I finally read them for myself, some ten years later, I felt I knew the place. With all due respect, Peter Jackson's beautifully rendered movies never matched the awe-filled imagery of those starry nights.

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“The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.”
― Carl Sagan, Cosmos

 “Stars, everywhere. So many stars that I could not for the life me understand how the sky could contain them all yet be so black.”
― Peter Watts, Blindsight

“He lost himself in the words and images conjured in his mind and for a while forgot ... He found himself flying among stars and planets ...”
― Carlos Ruiz Zaf√≥n, The Prince of Mist

“I can think of nothing but the stars. It is like a piece of my soul had been lost, empty, and it is now filled with the light of a million stars. They are all that I have ever dreamed of; they are nothing that I ever expected... I will never, never be the same. I have seen stars. Real stars.”
― Beth Revis, Across the Universe 

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I live in the city - not a very large city - but one whose lights have made all but the very brightest constellations invisible.  I read once, after the great California earthquake a decade or so ago, that as night descended, there was fear in the hearts of many.  What was that thing hovering above them in the sky?  It was the great arm of our Milky Way galaxy.  Whole generations had grown up beneath city lights and never knew of the grander lights that lay above.

The older I get, the more often I try to drive away from the lights and see the stars I have long missed.

“Underground, the stars are legend.”
― Catherine Fisher,


Want to see the stars again?  See the info at Global Explorers & Night Skies.


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