Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Starry signs point toward fall

Starry signs point toward fall
by Dave Adalian

‘You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains
And rising on his hands he looks in on me. ...’
-- Robert Frost, The Star Splitter

It’s that time again, when we pack away summer in our memory and all too soon turn our thoughts to woolen hats, warm coats and icy fog.

Some of us declare the season at an end when Labor Day rolls around and we spend three lazy days enjoying the last few hours of summer heat with barbecues, long stretches of green grass and cool dips. Others of a more serious and scientific mind say the season passes on the equinox, as the Sun, our giver of life and warmth, turns south again to shine on more exotic lands.

I suppose they’re right, but for me the change of season is measured by the stars.

First sure sign summer’s at an end comes just after dark when the Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair sits directly overhead insisting that the season isn’t quite over yet, not yet! But we know better, and each next long night finds them farther west than the one before.

If that weren’t evidence enough, when we turn to the east we find four bright stars in an enormous square -- the Great Square of Pegasus -- looming, and there beside it to the northeast the glowing ghost of the Andromeda Galaxy, a haunting specter of a Hallowe’en soon to be.

In the hour before midnight, when the Square takes the place of the Triangle at the top of the sky, the raging bull of Taurus begins its autumn charge over the eastern mountains: Aldebaran a glowing red eye in the V-shaped face of the Hyades and the seven starry sisters of the Pleiades riding on its back.

Were there any doubt left in us by the hour after midnight, the giant figure of Orion climbing sideways into the sky would chase it from our minds. The ancestor of us all, this ancient man of the mountain has come again to rule over the long, cold nights of a winter not yet quite begun.

In that coldest hour just before dawn, Orion the Hunter, followed by the faithful Dog Star Sirius, takes his stand in the south where he looks over the harvest and waits for the frozen chase to begin. Autumn has arrived.


This column originally appeared in the Visalia Times-Delta and Tulare Advance-Register in August 2008.

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