Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!

O look at all the fire folk seated in the air.
(Hopkins, 'The Starlight Night')

   Nature keeps many wonders. But few surpass the silent, glittering immensity of a clear, moonless night sky. So since November, 'the month for meteors,' is upon us, and since the great comet, Kahoutek will soon be the center of much attention, now might be a perfect time to do a column touting the wonder of the stars as a study worthy of the attention of any wise young person wishing to gain perspective through this wonderful subject..

   If I were to suggest one subject guaranteed not only to develop my children's imaginations, but also to give them some insight as to their place in the scheme of things, that subject would be astronomy.


   As a boy, I was lucky enough to have a star-gazing aunt. I can still remember squinting over Aunt Priscilla’s shoulder as she enthusiastically pointed out various stars and related aspects of the ancient myths or current astronomical findings which helped bring the magic of star-gazing alive to me.

  “See that bright orange star?” she would say, pointing up toward the east. That’s Arcturus the amazing star mentioned in the book of “Job”. “And that bright blue-white star overhead? That’s Vega. It’s called ‘the arc light of the sky.’ And see that beautiful blue dazzler up there close to Vega? That’s Deneb, the brightest star in the northern cross. Isn’t it curious that there are crosses in both hemisphere’s? Perhaps God wanted everyone to be able to see a cross, since, according to the Bible, Jesus helped God in the laying out of the heavens.”

   And so it would go. I don’t think I really saw half of the wonders Priscilla pointed out–it’s hard to see where someone else is pointing–but even as a little boy, I was awed by the vastness and glory of the heavens.

   I’m sure those early sessions with my aunt were what caused me to decide to take up astronomy when I was in the 8th grade. But I also had the good fortune to stumble upon a book that made my learning of the constellations really easy. It was one of the Little Golden Nature Series called simply, “Stars.”

   That book used the brilliant concept of showing in golden dots the constellations for each month on a light blue background with a dark blue drawing of the thing represented behind the golden dots. That way I could imagine, (thanks to the picture), the lion, or king, or serpent the stars of each constellation were supposed to represent. The more scientific star maps just had dots connected by dotted lines and looked nothing like the things they were supposed to represent. With the Little Golden Book, I was able to learn just about every constellation visible within a very short time.


   I can still remember my first discovery using 'Stars.' It was Cassiopia, The Queen. I was astonished that the big 'W' was there, right where it was supposed to be in relation to the Big Dipper, the only constellation I knew to start with.

   After that, discovering new constellations became sort of an obsession. And by morning (I stayed up all night) I was able to name nearly all the constellations then visible without the book! I was hooked for life.


   Since then the stars have become my old friends, and have served as sky marks putting me in remembrance of many things that happened to me under their influence. For instance seeing the Plaedes low in the east always brings to mind the old farm where I grew up and could stand on the front porch and see that little micro-dipper twinkling just above our barn in the fall of the year.


    And I never see Leo the Lion without picturing Peterson’s Butte in the Oregon of my high school days, and the Lion twinkling just above the crest of that fir-scented mountain, while The Platters sang, 'Heavenly shades of night are falling; it’s twilight time.' and my mind swam with the wonder of the beautiful girl who had shared my first dance at the sock hop that same magical May night of my junior year.

   And I never see Orion, the hunter, without thinking of the countless times I walked home from pin setting on sub zero North Dakota nights with only the wonder of the skies to give me warmth. And speaking of warmth, one star even reminds me of the lovely and matchless lady I was blessed to marry. “That fair-haired lady of the evening,” Venus–still brighter than all the rest and I’m Sirius, always reminds me of my beautiful Audrey.

    Is it any wonder I am high on the stars. People without them live with a huge hole, a black hole, in the skies of their lives right where that radiant gleam of hope should be shining. No wonder so many are depressed! How can they 'choose something like a star/ To stay their minds on and be stayed' as Robert Frost says, if they have no star they can call by name?

   If I had anything to say about a required set of “must take” courses, Astronomy would be one of them–right their beside music, and math, and literature and composition. Better toss in art too; need that to make us observers.


    I would have my kids learn the stars today so they might raise their sights up to a higher goal than kids aim at today–not heaping up money, or winning fame or power. But aspiring to things “high and solitary and most stern.”


   I'd like them to be able to read the lines, 'Deep calleth unto deep,' and sense in their spirits what the psalmist was talking about.


   Lord, show your little ones the stars again, so that they may be able to answer the infidels with but one simple and faithful reply. 'But my God made the heavens.'

   *This column first appeared in 1979, but I've added to it here with the benefit of hind sight and I hope a little wisdom.

Gene Pinkney