Sky-watching is fun hobby

Published 12:55 am Saturday, August 6, 2011

I enjoy sky-watching. Back during the years when my late husband was minister at the Lillian United Methodist Church, we moved into the new parsonage next door to the church. There we had a panoramic sky view. Occasionally I paused and resumed my child-like fantasies of finding faces, animals, and all sorts of things in the clouds above the parsonage.

As I was shuffling photo albums around a few days ago, I flipped open a page I had labeled one of my husband’s “Cloud Studies.” One showed billowy white clouds; another showed dark, threatening clouds that hovered low above a tree line. Another featured some bubble-shaped white clouds above some dark ones, with a splash of orange light high above the tip of the church steeple. I had labeled one “not a cloud in the blue sky” above the sanctuary and education building. It was the view from our kitchen window.

I found another photo made at another house where we lived before the parsonage existed. Debris and downed limbs littered the yard and driveway. They had barely missed our truck and old Airstream travel trailer parked on the other side of the storm-damaged tree. I shot the picture when we returned after a hurricane. As I turned that page, I realized it fitted into the cloud studies category depicting a calm, clear sky—exactly the opposite of what the day before had been.

We also enjoyed moon-gazing and star-gazing from there. He was really good at identifying the constellations. When he pointed them out, I thought about legends we learned in school to help us identify the constellations. The Big Dipper is also known as the Great Bear and Hunters. According to legend, the three stars in the bear’s tail are three surviving warriors from a battle. The bear and warriors were swept into the sky and the warriors still chase the bear. One carries a bow, the second a kettle. The third has sticks for a fire to cook the downed bear. When the bow carrier wounds the bear, blood drips from it and falls on leaves, creating the fall colors.

The Little Dipper, or Lesser Bear legend, originated from Greek mythology. Lesser Bear, the mighty hunter Arcus, was the child of a beautiful woman named Helice. Hera, wife of Zeus, was jealous of Helice. She turned her into a big bear. When Zeus saw Arcus about to kill the big bear, he changed him to a little bear. Then he hurled both of them into the sky by their tails. That is why both have such long tails.

Scientists say that 14 men and women, nine birds, two insects, 19 land animals, ten water creatures, two centaurs, one head of hair, a serpent, a dragon, a flying horse, a river, and 29 inanimate objects are represented in the night sky, but few constellations bear any resemblance to what they are supposed to represent. Try star-watching sometime. You might be surprised what you find.