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North and South

December 18, 2010

The iron filings in my nose have never worked very well and I have no sense of direction. I can read a map but it takes a mort o’ concentration so I don’t do it for pleasure. But I know the sun rises (apparently) in the east and sets in the west and if you live in the Southern hemisphere the sunny side is to the north. The moon appears differently in the Southern hemisphere too, which may seem obvious to the keener intellect but is not a well-known fact. I was often mystified by the incorrect (Northern hemisphere) drawings of the moon phases in textbooks when I was younger. No mention was ever made of the differences that occurred in the south. I don’t know if that was arrogance, ignorance, an oversight or an economy with paper and ink.

I live in a city now, though only a little one, and the night sky is not clearly visible because of light pollution. I am never too sure what I can see when I do study the sky at night because I am a foreigner here and no-one has ever really explained what is what overhead. I sometimes think of Drummer Hodge when I look at it.

The night sky that I know a little better is that one sees in the southern Riverina, NSW. I will be back there next week, possibly for the last time and I will look at it for as long as I dare. That sky is dark and the big splash of milky silver from Juno’s generous breast is plain to see. Even with the naked myopic eye it is an impossibly beautiful thing. And, like all beautiful things, it is too much yet not enough. (I need a poet, or Van Gogh, to pin that down better). But I don’t know the constellations very well there, either. I tried to look at a map of the constellations by torchlight once as I stood in a dark garden. I forgot about the power of phototropism and was overwhelmed by a million bugs lunging at the torchbulb. So I had to give that up. My father, a man who named all his cattle from mythology, knew all the stars in the sky but he has Alzheimers now so his knowledge has probably gone (though if it is like his spelling it may not have).

The words ‘Precession of the Equinoxes’  are to me as stately and graceful as any I have ever heard. I have not seen Vega of the Lyre as I have never been to the northern hemisphere but I first read of it years ago in a book by L.M.Montgomery. Vega (or Wega, or ‘Swooping Eagle’ from the Arabic ) was once the North Celestial Pole Star (about 12,000 years ago) and will, because of the Precession of the Equinoxes, be so again in about 10,000 years. I admire her patience and her calm assurance.


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