The Northern Sky…

My room faced north, on the northern edge of a valley where the range of “hills” (mountains if one is anywhere but on the West Coast) northward was populated solely by native oak & grasses…and the few cattle that grazed them. The nightly vista of northern sky out my windows granted me a truly stellar view. The northern hills shielded my view from light pollution, so that the northern California clear skies granted me a decade of watching the Great Bear and Small Bear and Lady in the Chair and the milky star-flood of our own galaxy wheel around the Pole Star and across the northern sky…

Twenty-odd years later, when I first heard the Celtic goddess Arianrhod described as Lady of the Silver Wheel, that wheeling star-scape flashed vividly before my mental eyes. Many years later, an elder told me the “Silver Wheel” referred to the moon…yet in Welsh lore, Caer Arianrhod is the Welsh name of the constellation we call Corona Borealis, the northern crown. And as the Wicca know, the north is the place of power.

Orion’s key stars are emphasized in this image.

Those northern night skies led me out to explore the night in the other quarters of the compass…where I rapidly discovered the truth of light pollution (Santa Rosa to the south & southwest, with habitation & its lighting creeping south-eastward along highway 12 towards Sonoma). The eastern view from the front porch was almost equally shielded from Hwy 12 hamlet lights by the last of the “hills” that marched down from Calistoga Pass, so that the eastern sky well above horizon granted me superlative views of autumn’s annual, stately arrival of Orion’s masterful figure, the Hunter stalking in to rule the dark skies of winter. And that led my gaze upwards to zenith, where I found the Seven Sisters—the Pleiades, clustered together as the sisters, traditionally, flee ahead of the dread Hunter and his wild hunt. Chasing the Hunter across dark-time skies from harvest to springtide, I learned other recognizable constellations—the “teapot” of Sagittarius that outlines the centaur’s drawn longbow, the aforementioned Northern Crown (which crosses high in the sky in the northern temperate latitudes), and gradually a few of the summer stars, too—most notably, Cygnus the Swan,  which constellation fills much of the Summer Triangle of vivid stars.


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