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Book of Days

BOOK OF DAYS: A POET AND NATURALIST TRIES TO FIND POETRY IN EVERY DAY

Filtering by Tag: constellation

February 1: Red stars

Kristen Lindquist

Last night as I walked to the corner market, the night sky was crystal clear, and I could actually stop and enjoy the spectacle of stars without instantly freezing solid. Directly overhead, the planet Jupiter shone bright, poised above Aldebaran, a red giant star in the V-shaped constellation Taurus. Below Aldebaran, the red giant Betelgeuse hung on the right shoulder (our left) of the constellation Orion the Hunter. Amazing to think that the largest planet in our solar system (which is also red), and these two red giants flaming thousands of times larger than our own little yellow sun, are just tiny pinpricks from our vantage point here on Earth. We comprehend so little of what's around us in the universe.

Starry winter sky.
I made a big red wish
on Aldebaran.

December 13: Stars again

Kristen Lindquist

Late last night I was out star-gazing before going to bed. I was thinking of that as I scraped the delicately needled stars of frost off my windshield early today. Stars at night, stars first thing in the morning. And driving to an early meeting, one big star (the sun) rising brightly over Camden Harbor, casting its rays over the bay and the awakening town...

Constellations of frost
recall late-night college conversations
about fractals, nature's patterns.

December 12: Night sky

Kristen Lindquist

In the backyard tonight braving the cold for a few minutes in hope of seeing some of the Geminid meteor shower. Clear sky on a new moon night, perfect for star-gazing. This pattern of constellations is the same one I first learned as a child studying the stars with a well-thumbed Golden Book--for me, the night sky's most familiar face. Over the roof peak poise the two stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux; Orion climbs the sky beyond my neighbor's garden; Auriga, the Charioteer, pauses high over Mount Battie; the V of Taurus the Bull sits just below the blurred cluster of the Pleiades. And almost inside that V, bright Jupiter.

With binoculars, I can see three of Jupiter's four Galilean moons--the largest and brightest satellites of our largest planet--as well as the true redness of Aldebaran, the alpha star of Taurus. I don't expect to last long enough to see an actual meteor. But as I shiver and the cloud of my breath rises to the heavens, a quick falling star flashes behind a net of birch branches. I say "Thank you!" to the sky before rushing back into the warm house.

No need to make a wish.
This sky, these stars--
all I want right now.

December 3: Septentrional

Kristen Lindquist

I subscribe to wordsmith.org's Word.A.Day, which I highly recommend to anyone fascinated by words and language. As a linguistics minor in college (and a writer), I admit I'm kind of a word nerd, so am always delighted when each day's new word appears in my email In box. This week's theme is "words derived from numbers." Today's word--septentrional, which means "northern"--particularly struck me because it's not only unusual, it's also related to one of my favorite constellations, the Big Dipper.

Here's the etymology, according to Word.A.Day: "From Latin septentriones, literally the seven ploughing oxen, a name for the seven stars of the Great Bear constellation that appears in the northern sky. From Latin septem (seven) + triones (ploughing oxen). Earliest documented use: around 1400."

The Big Dipper goes by many names around the world: Ursa Major, the Great Bear; Charles' Wain or Wagon; the Plough; the Drinking Gourd; the Seven Wisemen; the Frying Pan; even the Salmon Net. As a circumpolar constellation, it wheels around Polaris, the North Star. To find the North Star, you trace a line in the sky up through the two stars that form the right side of the ladle. So its meaning of "northern" makes perfect sense, even while the backstory involving seven oxen might be a little less clear, lost in translation over time.

Seven stars, many stories.
We face north, align
with the heavens.







October 9: Northern Cross

Kristen Lindquist

On Friday night when we returned home late from dinner, I paused outside the house to admire the clear, star-filled sky. The streetlight that usually floods the front of our house with light is out, so now, when the weather allows, we've actually been able to fully appreciate the stars.

We picked out Jupiter to the southeast over Mount Battie, its steady light distinguishing this bright planet from our brightest stars. And as I looked up over our house, a set of stars called the Northern Cross poised upright over our roof. I pointed it out to my husband, told him our house was blessed. We had just been engaged in a long dinner conversation with friends about (mostly unusual or extreme) religious beliefs and practices. "Is that some sort of story?" he asked, thinking that I was noting a Christian folk belief. "That's my story," I told him. "I just decided that."

The Northern Cross is actually encompassed by a constellation long recognized (for a millenium or so) in the Western world as Cygnus, the Swan. Its brightest star Deneb is at the top of the cross, and is one of three stars that makes up another asterism known as the Summer Triangle, along with Altair (in Aquila, the Eagle) and Vega (in Lyra, the Lyre). Deneb is also considered to be the tail of the Swan, so this bird too is headed south, pointing the way for all those living birds migrating overhead in the cloudless dark.