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In Door County, when the sun goes down, fun still abounds, especially for nature nuts like me. Actually, I’m not nutty, I simply breathe in the out-of-doors and don’t stop breathing at sunset.
I’ve progressed in my constellation studies these last few years. I climb into my wool socks and snow pants at 7 pm on a wintry Saturday night for a star-date across town to Crossroads at Big Creek on Astronomy Viewing nights. I “bag” these pictures-in-the-sky, as some folks “bag” bird species or wildflower photos.
Of course, my favorite star is the sun (yep, it’s a star), which I worship all day long. Yes, John Denver, “sunshine on my shoulders does make me high.” I sit quietly, allowing sunshine to warm the skin on my face, glinting at the corner of my eye as light illuminates the blond strands of my hair, which is lifted and resettled, by gentle breezes.
The sun is the closest star to earth. Stars consist of a mix of mostly hydrogen and helium gases held together by outer space gravity. Just like the hottest flame in a campfire, the hottest stars appear to have a blueish cast while cooler ones have a reddish glow. Some stars are not all they are famously cracked up to be, such as Polaris, the North Star, a rather wimpy specimen hanging onto the end of the handle of the Little Dipper. But, it is reliable. It really won’t let you down.
We watch stars as they peek through the haze of atmospheric gases which causes them to appear to twinkle. “Tinkle, tinkle little tot, there upon your little pot.” That’s the song I’d sing to my Hannahkins, as she took care of her little potty-chair needs, under a splendor of twinkling stars, while we were camping. Now Hannah is about to produce her own little tot and, in night-time blackness as I kick back amidst dew-kissed fields of grassy fragrance or sink onto cool beads of sand, I gaze up into the heavens and want to protect this new child from the too many ravages of electronic interference and to encourage that new child to come to know and appreciate the enormity of the night sky. What a joy it is when I step out onto my deck on a warm night and the great summer triangle of stars is right overhead, greeting me with the swan leading the way towards the north. Or the big dipper pouring its magic right onto my roof. The stars are fixed, you see. It is we who rotate through each 24 hours, through each quarterly season. It is kind of nice to know, at least in our own lifetimes, these stars will be there to greet us, to remain a constant in our whirlwind lives.
Oh, exultation! The first time the Rings of Saturn appeared to me through the telescope lens. You learn about Saturn in school, you see the rings computer-graphically designed in movies. Then, you see the real thing for the first time. The splendor, the unbelieveability of such a structure created without the assistance of humans.
If you ever want to tone down your own arrogance, just put yourself next to something really big. The sky is eminently qualified for that.
What is Astronomy Viewing Night like at the Crossroads at Big Creek? First, you hear voices before you see people because it’s dark out there and your eyes have to adjust before you can even walk easily. Then you realize there are some very nice astronomy types present who have lugged their big telescopes out to share with others, focusing in for you every few seconds (because the earth is constantly moving) on things like a nebula, which are a group of very-far-away stars that look like a bright cloud, or the moons of Jupiter, everyone stamping their feet to keep warm. You can go get a bit warm in the observatory office, wistfully noting that its contributor, Ray Stonecipher, is up in the heavens himself now, instead of greeting you from his desk. The high tech stuff is wonderful, but I like best to lie back on the comfortable incline of the viewing mound, sometimes in snow, to gaze upwards with my own eyes and find well-known pictures in the sky. I once got a strong crick in my neck trying to locate Cepheus, almost bursting a brain cell trying to find him. Now he presents familiarly right next to Cassiopeia, just like an old friend. There’s the great square of Pegasus, the backward question mark of my star-sign, Leo the Lion, the teapot shaped Sagittarius, or the two heads of Gemini.
Door County has plenty of dark hot spots: back roads shorelines near empty cabins, and a couple of lookout towers, all for your star-viewing pleasure. I take a nap in that sun, in the daytime, so I can party with the stars at night.
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