Thursday, July 08, 2010

In the land of counterpane

From our hillside here in Ireland the big triple window at the foot of the bed looks out to the south over Ventry Harbor and Dingle Bay. As I lay in bed at night the view is all sky. It is summer, of course, as always when we are here, and in the middle of the night the ecliptic -- the approximate path of the Moon and planets -- lies parallel to the horizon, seemingly right outside the window. When I wake in darkness -- the nights are brief this time of year -- I don't even have to raise my head from the pillow to watch the parade of the zodiac marching by.

First, Spica, alone in Virgo, tooting her tinny horn: "Make way! Make way!" Then those two inconspicuous stars of Libra with the wonderful names, Zubenelgenubi and Zubeneschamali, twirling their batons. Ta-ta! Ta-ta! The Scorpion, with its blazing red heart -- the giant star Antares -- and curling stinger dragging in the sea. And Sagittarius, the centaur archer, prancing into view, draped in the flowing robes of the Milky Way.

Once a month the Moon joins the parade, full or nearly full, like a big booming calliope. Some years we have Mars, or Jupiter, or Saturn, in their sequins, doing handsprings across the horizon; this summer only Jupiter joins the parade, pulling up the rear, chased by the dawn. The occasional satellite soars upwards out of the horizon like a Roman candle. In August, shooting stars fly the other way, extinguishing their fires in the sea.

All in all, it's hard to sleep with that razzle-dazzle and hulabaloo high-stepping past the foot of the bed. I suppose we are lucky that this is, after all, Ireland, with its customary curtains of cloud.