Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Orion Nebula shines on an old neighborhood

I got to show a few people the Orion Nebula tonight. Our astronomy club at the high school prides itself on urban viewing, and we have adopted John Dobson's approach to stargazing--we even call ourselves the Bloomfield High Sidewalk Astronomers.

The high school security lights make star-hopping an act of faith, and through faith we manage to find the nebula--we sort of could see Orion's sword, and from there we bumbled our way to the nebula.

Light that traveled over 1,200 years hit the eyes of several people here in Bloomfield tonight. Charlemagne was Emperor of the West when those photons left their source.

An older security guard born in another land, a young man who's fought a disability that he will not let define him, and a student transferring from our high school tomorrow all got to catch some old, old photons.

Earlier today, a spectacular winter day when the mercury rose to the mid-sixties, I chatted with a colleague, sharing the joys of drinking beer on the stoop on a day like today.

On a day like today, a few folks will sit on their stoops, drinking beer, telling tales.

"White trash," she said.

No, no, not trash. And on this side of town, not mostly white, either. I may be black Irish, but I am not white trash, nor are my neighbors. There's something civil and democratic about beers shared on stoops. Ben Franklin would have fit right in.

So on a warm night in February, using a telescope bought by citizens of a town not blessed by extravagance but blessed with a sense of enough, a few more people gasped at the unexpected and the inexplicable beauty of our universe.

And, yeah, we drink beer.

5 comments:

Leslie said...

This might be my favorite post. If the telescope captures the light from centuries ago, this captures our home now.

John Spencer said...

I'm with you. The front porch is the last of the great democratic civic institutions.

Kate Tabor said...

For us, it's the back porch that opens up into the back yards of our neighbors, where we all gather and wave at each other and foment the impromptu pot-luck/beer/glass of wine and conversation. This poem arrived in my in-box just the other day -
On the Back Porch
by Dorianne Laux from Awake

The cat calls for her dinner.
On the porch I bend and pour
brown soy stars into her bowl,
stroke her dark fur.
It's not quite night.
Pinpricks of light in the eastern sky.
Above my neighbor's roof, a transparent
moon, a pink rag of cloud.
Inside my house are those who love me.
My daughter dusts biscuit dough.
And there's a man who will lift my hair
in his hands, brush it
until it throws sparks.
Everything is just as I've left it.
Dinner simmers on the stove.
Glass bowls wait to be filled
with gold broth. Sprigs of parsley
on the cutting board.
I want to smell this rich soup, the air
around me going dark, as stars press
their simple shapes into the sky.
I want to stay on the back porch
while the world tilts
toward sleep, until what I love
misses me, and calls me in.

captainawsome said...

Beautiful image. This sounds like our town. We moved here a year and a half ago, to the shagrin of most of out family and friends. Too dangerous and trashy they said. Not even two years later four other families have joined us here. There is nothing like a summer night of rockingchairs, stoops, and kids running together down the sidewalk.

doyle said...

@John,

Exactly--and we're losing it fast.

@Kate,

Thanks--that's wonderful! I can feel the receding light of a warm dusk evening--I will need this again before the winter's over.

@captainawesome,

People are afraid of life, I suspect because we are so culturally afraid of death.

One of the big secrets is that you don't need to be fantastically wealthy to be fantastically happy. (You need enough money to keep your horses fed, true, but much of this country has that and more and does not know it.)

If we're not here to share stories and chase lightning bugs, then what else can we do?