by Duane Dunkerson
In a fantasy of mine I am on a tropical island in the South
Pacific. There are no other tropical islands, by my definition,
except those of the South Pacific. This island has a soft and
refreshing breeze that blows during the day. I do no housework,
nor do I run errands. I mostly have my library, satellite TV,
and an Internet connection for chess play. At night I fire up
my shortwave radio for transmission and reception. I sleep soundly
each and every night. The food is tasty and cooked by someone
else. The island is large enough for my motorcycle to stretch
its legs. I am aware of others on the island but I am mostly
sequestered by choice from them. The house is one storey, one
bedroom, one study, kitchen, and bath. Sea adventures via my
sailboat are a stone toss away.
I have an observatory with roll-off roof near the house. The
observatory contains an eight inch reflector for lunar observation
and my old and reliable refractor for everything else. I have
never seen the purely southern constellations. I have heard
they are best-in-the-sky for some categories of objects.
This is a good, if not great, fantasy. I am in control of my
fantasy, as I should be. With a full appreciation of the southern
sky, I place the telescope to the North. I am seeking that which
in their entirety are an enormous expanse of persistent, perhaps
oppressive, familiarity. That is, they have among them the first
constellation I ever knew. I have known most of these constellations
for decades. There are six of them, though Camelopardalis is
practically unknown to me. They are well known patterns turning
about through 360 degrees. Polaris does not turn and is getting
close to the Pole. It will be most useful in 2095. There are
great sweeps of sky in these regions. There is included an arm
of the Milky Way. One constellation has a winding expanse of
stars. One is famous as the Plough, or Bear (as in the Effigy
Mounds of far NE Iowa), or Dipper. They can tell the time. In
some instances, they hold together as asterisms. They are reliable,
always there, and up all night. As navigation aids they have
a further usefulness. Long ago they were not only appreciated
for this reason.
I didn't first note the stars there, find their patterns, and
grant them names; but I accept them. Tiny points of light, silent
and at the limits to our North, then up and beyond. They rest
there; everywhere the dark about the pole belongs to them. It
is their native space, a home for them and they never arise,
but always arrive in their expected place, lordly quiet - as
in words somewhat from Coleridge.
In any way they are oriented I know them and they have distinctive
shapes they take on beyond the stellar patterns. As an amateur
astronomer, they are reassuring to me. They stand over decades
of thoughts in the thousands and give a signature, an affidavit
of existence. Hot, cold or windy, calm - they are never false
in my experience.
There on my island they aren't there. Well then, put them there.
What a fantastical event to have northern stars in Southern
skies! Then the beachcomer says, "It ain't right".
I am stunned by my conceptual honesty. I can't go even in fantasy
to my island because of a sprinkle of stars. There is a group
of six constellations and that is all. No, forced by myself,
it is too much. An oppressive familiarity, indeed. Having lost
the fantasy, defeated, I am back in a countryside where the
summer or the winter can kill you. The weather of death, it
Yet I am not greatly distressed. It was but a fantasy. Maybe
heaven here it could have been or it is there. A presumptuous
impertinence. So today I too pruned my roses and my circumpolar
sextet reminds me that I am subject to them, beauties that they
are by means of my imagination.
I lost paradise for the sake of stars I don't see very often
now because of the newly lousy weather. What a ripoff! But they
were there and they remain and I don't. No, they can't go on
forever. This I know. But whose forever is it? They don't think.
I do, and look at what I have done.
Tonight, weather permitting; I'll visit my six exasperating
celestial forthcoming formations.