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Circumpolar North

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 is.

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.

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by Duane Dunkerson

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