Wednesday, May 7, 2008


The last few days, as the weather is warming up, I've been able to comfortably stay out on the back deck to watch the sun set. It started out on Sunday as a way for me to calm down after we returned from a trip to Mabou, and I was overtired and having trouble concentrating. So I took our "summer/guest mattress" out onto the deck at the back of the house, along with a blanket, since it was 7 pm and the air had a chill to it, and lay down, watching the clouds move slowly overhead, and breathing in and out from my belly. It was peaceful and stilling, to listen to the peepers making big sound in the wetlands, and to watch the bats swooping in the dusky sky.

It's since become a habit, and last night, along with the requisite mattress and blanket, I took out a newspaper clipping from Saturday's Chronicle Herald. It's the monthly astronomy column, called "Starstruck", written by John McPhee, whose author photo makes him look geeky, but in a friendly, rumpled way, which happens to be the way he writes: intelligent but also down-to-earth (no pun intended). The monthly column includes a chart of the night sky for Nova Scotia for that particular month, showing the constellations to be seen, as well as the prominent planets or stars. I'm not an astronomy expert — at least, not yet — but I'm interested in it. What started me going was getting the Farmer's Almanac this past January, and keeping it in the bathroom. I mean, you need something to read when you're on the loo! It might as well be something educational about the natural world. So I've learned about sun and moon set and rise times, and eclipses, and what's happening in the night sky month by month, as I'm, ahem, doing my business.

Mind you, when I go out to actually look at the stars, I can't really figure out which constellation is which, except for Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and Polaris, the North Star, which I've always known. I thought I had found Bootes, using the Chronicle Herald chart, which I thought was a hilarious name for a constellation. But now I'm not so sure — the stars that I thought made up Bootes (snicker) look like they could be something else entirely. I'm thinking I need to get myself a stargazing-for-beginners book from the library. Luckily, library books are free, and I'm thinking stargazing books will be plentiful in the library system. And also luckily for me, I already have access to what most urban astronomers would love to have: an un-light-polluted sky. That's one of the major bonuses of living 8 kilometres from the nearest village, and 40 km from the nearest big town: bucketfuls of stars overhead.

So I was lying on the mattress last night, the blanket bundled around me to prevent chills and mosquito bites, and I was waiting for the crescent moon, only 1.6 days old, to appear in the West, along with Mercury, "the charbroiled planet", as the Almanac calls it. The moon appeared, fragile and silver as a fingernail clipping, but Mercury had yet to make an appearance. I was breathing in and out from the belly, and watching the clouds move overhead, as they moved from West to East. And I was thinking how activities like this, activities like fishing or stargazing or gardening, activities where the rhythms of the natural world dictate the actions of the human world, are so good for the soul. They slow us down, simply because the rhythms of the natural world are slower than the sped-up, artificial deadlines we humans give ourselves. And this is a good thing to do — we need slowing down.

And then Mercury appeared, tinier than I thought it would be, but still sparkling below the moon. And the peepers made their big sounds in the wetlands, and the bats swooped in the dusky night.

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