It was amazing how they simply hung in the dome of the sky, moving with uniform slowness, creeping across the sky when no one was looking. Unlike me, they're timeless and predictable. They know everything that there is to know.
One never needs to tell the stars that life is sometimes hard, they already know. Step outside and look; sometimes they fall, too.
It's said that the stars once committed a crime, one that was so heinous that it's never spoken of anymore. The young ones, who burn with a new, vigorous fire, don't know what it is, and the old ones are ashamed and refuse to tell them. Because of this, the young ones are bound by some curse that they cannot know, twinkling as lanterns do in the night, never able to leave their station. It is a cruel fate, but one that they are resigned to. Sometimes, though, the wind still whispers it, and the young stars aid us in our mortal quests, hoping that we will hear the wind's whispers and relay the message in payment for this help.
I remember a chance encounter, a long time ago now. I watched the stars rotate through the spheres, learning their names and their legends. I knowingly fixed my gaze for the first time on Polaris, and this northernmost star still reminds me of the girl I kissed that night. I would gaze at it often my last year of high school.
I remember my first view of the Southern Cross, which Mark Twain reminds us is only a cross if one squints so hard that his vision is blurred. I was standing on the shore of the sea, and my eyes could see more stars than they had ever seen before. It's true: When you see the Southern Cross for the first time, you understand just why you went that way. Twain was right, though: it's certainly better named the "Southern Kite."
I remember lying in the grass, Tina in my arms. We watched the stars go by for what seemed like forever, just talking and holding each other. I asked her to pick one. She pointed to a bright star in the middle of the sky, saying, "That one." I verified the one she spoke of, and told her about it. Its name is Arcturus, and it forms the center of the constellation Bootes. Bootes himself herds the big bear, Ursa Major, with his dog. In Greece, the same constellation indicated Icarius, who was killed by his guests for getting them drunk, but his hounds found his body and lay in the ditch to loyally wait for death with him. The gods rewarded the dogs' loyalty by placing them in the sky next to their master. I can see the star from where I write this, and it does indeed remind me of fidelity. I look at this star every night when I camp, though I don't believe she has looked upon it since that night.
I remember when I first took Tina to Kansas, and on the first dark night I took her for a walk. We strolled to the end of the street, and I pulled her close to me. She thought I would kiss her, and closed her eyes. Instead, I lifted her chin, and said, "Look." Her eyes opened to the broadest, most populous sky she had ever seen, and she stood, gazing like a child at the candy counter at the variety of beautiful things before her.
I remember when the Pleadies cluster was first shown to me. I stared and stared at it, counting the stars and thinking of the sisters high in the sky, singing to each other and brushing out their long hair. I wished I could sit near them, listening to their stories. I wished I could watch them dance upon their high pedestals that held them in place in the night sky. I imagined that the cluster never moved, that the sisters always watched over me. To this day, they still take my breath away.
I remember a night when the sky fell about me. I lay close to a fire, keeping warm in the cold November night. I watched the stars fall, bright streaks of fire smashing into the atmosphere, sometimes skipping like a stone across the water. I watched from the comfort of my sleeping bag for hours, until I fell asleep, dreaming of riding one into the deepest reaches of space. I would awaken several times during the night to see the stars still falling, wondering if there would still be enough stars in the sky for me to find my favourite constellations tomorrow.
I remember the first time I saw the star Betelgeuse. The astronomer explained that it was a red giant, expected to supernova anytime now. I was afraid that if I spoke its name three times, I would cause it to explode. I still don't speak its name aloud today.
I remember when I first realized that the stars never went away. I looked for them at noon, imagining I could still see them poking through the field of blue that I now hated, because it kept me from seeing the stars for so many years. I imagined that they could see me if I waved, and I spent a week of recess waving frantically at the daytime sky, sometimes shouting so that they would know they weren't forgotten.
I remember a cold clear night, the sound of drums beating out across the water, echoing among the trees. I could see the torches on the other side of the lake, and the canoe that was to ferry me across. As I looked across the lake, I realized that there was a perfect reflection of the night sky in the water, and that the sky and the lake were indistinguishable from one another. I gazed at this in awe until a hand on my arm pulled me back to the events at hand.
I remember an early school project where we had to pick a constellation to look at. I chose the Big Dipper. When I went out to look at it that night, it was upside down. It seemed to be pouring everything out, and this confused me. All my pictures showed it right side up. The next day at school, I told my teacher about this strange flip that the Big Dipper had made. "I saw the Big Dipper last night. It was upside down!" I said. "Well, that's strange. Are you sure?" was her answer. I told her I was sure, and she just repeated, "Well, that's strange!" When I later learned that the stars rotated around the North Star, I felt stupid, but that feeling was cancelled out by feeling sorry for my teacher who did not know this simple fact.
I remember once trying to count all the stars. I lay on my back starting at the low horizon. I worked my way up, creating a system to avoid duplication and count them all. I still use this system today when counting things that have been spaced irregularly over a large area. Unfortunately, I fell asleep right around two hundred. I suspect I hadn't managed to count them all.
Stargazing is a simple thing. To stand in your driveway or back yard and look at the heavens, remembering that you're a speck of dust in that giant universe can often bring you back to a reality you have forgotten. To drive into the country, away from city lights, and to see the sheer number of stars and planets and galaxies can be overwhelming, but it is truly powerful.
Never miss a chance to see the night sky. There are no re-runs. Every revolution of the earth brings a new view, a new star, or a new planet. Stars fall and burn brighter. Changing your latitude by a few degrees can change the whole sky.