Stargazer

The East Coast storm delivered the snow, and I was soon out playing in it, diving into the pristine woods (to get out of the wind) on my cross-country skis while it was still coming down.  Dollops of white roll off the evergreens onto my head; the pine branches arc upwards when relieved of the weight. It’s great exercise – by the time I’m twenty minutes in, my coat is open and my hat off.

Even when the snow stopped falling, the wind continued reforming it.  You could shovel  – not such great exercise, but a necessity – a path through the foot-deep fairyland – out to Quan’s rabbitat, say – only to see the trench fill in over the next minutes.  The wind scours the snow off the high spots down to the earth, tosses it up into the sunny air with gay abandon like ocean spume, whirls and weaves it into all-white sculptural desert shapes downwind of obstructions, and piles up three and four feet deep drifts in the lees.  The old folk here built their houses at angles to take advantage of this tendency.  The path to the woodshed, specifically, was designed to be a scoured area, so you could get your morning fires started after a blizzard without too much work.

The weathermen and people who move here call these storms ‘nor’easters’, but anyone who grew up here knows they’re ‘no’theasters’, and no one but a weatherman from the city would say noreaster.

I was thinking on these old native winters as I took a turn outside last night, looking up at the myriad stars that profuse on the lens of a cold winter sky.  Low over the horizon to the southeast, I spotted a strange twinkling light.  It appeared to zig-zag over the trees in an odd manner.  It was large and very bright, with red, green, blue, and white lights on it.  It could have been a helicopter – by this time it was apparently still in the sky – but what would a helicopter be doing hovering over the sea on nearly New Year’s Eve with a bunch of Christmas-y lights underneath?

I called to Quan to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, and then ran to get the boat binoculars, in my bedroom for the winter.  By holding the binocs against the window, we could get a pretty steady view of the lights.  There was red flashing lights every 120 degrees, with a steady white light, another appeared to be flashing, and sporadic green and blue lights – a cosmic version of those lightboxes that added so much to the 70’s.

Quan has a lovable crank tendency to believe in UFO’s, having seen them before, and in chem trails, and in 9/11 as a government plot, and Aids and Lyme disease as CIA-tinkered viruses that escaped – generally a prophet of coming apocalyptic doom.  I am of a more conservative and logical turn – I lived through Watergate; the government can’t even keep a third-rate burglary secret, let alone a highly complex airlift designed to poison our soil, and UFO’s venturing light years only to fly around in our skies without landing to gas up or try sushi makes no sense to me – but I was having a hard time coming up with anything earthly that would match my sense impressions.

I called up a friend who lived to the southeast to see if she could see what we could see.  At first she thought it was just a star twinkling, but I countered, “This is no twinkling star, at least none I’ve ever seen. It’s way too big, and the lights are flashing too regularly.  Something military, maybe, but that doesn’t make much sense either.”

I had even, in my initial excitement, called 911, to ask if they knew of anything happening that could explain this.  They were polite, non-committal, and gently dismissive.

Both my friend and Quan, independently, could see tendrils of bending blue light raying out from this thing, which my friend described as ‘like a colored jellyfish in the sky’.

She has a telescope, so we agreed to meet at Pemaquid Point.  With the world turning ghostly white every fifteen seconds as the lighthouse lit up the eerie night, we set up her grandfather’s telescope on the rocks over the sea and trained it on the object over Monhegan Island.  In the half hour it took to get there from home, the colored flashing had diminished.  It was still there, but fainter, and we were quite chilled but no closer to knowing what it was when we had finished with the telescope.

Fortunately, there’s an app for that.  Literally, when she got home, my friend downloaded an iPhone app for finding stars, and texted me before I made it to bed: It’s Sirius.  The Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky.  Nah, it cannot be.  I couldn’t resist texting back ‘Seriously?’  But then I went outside to look.  Easy to spot – just follow Orion’s belt down and to the left – Sirius was by this time well up in the sky, and had settled down to be the big bright blue slightly-twinkling star she had first thought it was.

What we had been looking at was Sirius on the horizon, where the light was prismed through a large secant of cold atmosphere, splitting the light into its constituent colours.  As it rose, it became less and less spectacular, as the light fell less tangentially and more directly toward our position.  The phenomenon – like the size of the rising moon – was very local, very explainable, very sheepish-making.

Now, it really was an extraordinary light show, one I’ve not seen in my 60 years of gazing upward – not that I am an astronomy buff or anything.  But what I am ruminating on in the aftermath is just how gullible I am, how easy it is to be drawn along into a narrative, and how all the evidence tends to be pulled into alignment with that story, like filings around a magnet.  I am sure I am that way about the importance of fascia’s role in consciousness, and I believe Quan’s that way about her intricate government plots.

Our image of reality is but a computation of a computation of a computation.  It was my mind – or even the neural processes in the eye and optic nerve before it reaches consciousness – that made the coloured twinkles into a regular pattern.  It was adjusting nystagmus that gave the illusion of the object zig-zagging before it ‘settled down’. It was my unreliable eyewitness mind that, both drawn along by and encouraging agreement from others, created a powerful and sustained illusion.

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2 Responses to “Stargazer”

  1. Joel Says:

    Tom – could it be both? Could a different perspective/state of consciousness change the perception of what we experience? Might not both states be true, from the point of view perceived from?
    Food for rumination…

  2. Sharon Says:

    How difficult it is to achieve the state of knowing nothing! Yet that is the state you were all in (no matter your thoughts) while pulled, puzzled, to the beautiful sight. A great deal of beauty in the mind pondering a great deal of beauty in the sky.

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