Despite living with a man who’s all about the stars (as well as the flowers, the grasses, and seasonal migrations of many species), I should have learned the seasonal wheel and tilts of the constellations years ago. Yet all of Ken’s explanations floated into my ears and out the top of my head with nothing to tether one pattern to another. Being star-proof, I could only pick out the Big Dipper and, after a few decades, recognize Orion, or at least his belt.
Then it all changed. We went to a star party at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of far west Texas, and for some reason, the shapes and stories came into focus with a fury and speed that left me breathless. Maybe I had too much noise, and knick knacks in my brain for the last 33 years each time Ken patiently explained, yet again, how that backwards question mark formed the Leo the Lion’s head and back. In the crowd of hundreds gathered to look up together, the marvelous guide at the observatory used a laser pointer to trace the shapes stars make. His talk, Ken’s words buried in me from so many dark nights, and a wonderful book by H.A. Rey (yes, that H.A. Rey) called Find the Constllations have since aligned me what’s right here in the depth of a spring night: Sirius as the dog tag on Canis Major (the big dog), the zigzag woman named Cassiopeia, and the big bear constellation of Ursa Major made, in part, of the big dipper.
In the nights since, I’ve been looking up, trying to remember what I learned the night before. There are 88 constellations, at least according to astronomy today, and while I can’t show you more than about 7 at the moment, I’m excited to finally learn more of what’s parading above and beyond us.