Furthest Right

Celestial navigation

When was the last time you looked up at the stars? I mean, really looked?

City dwellers are the ones who see stars the least. A basic disconnect between what we are and where we are, in relation to why we are.

Sailors, right up until very recent times, were in touch with the stars. Stars were their means of navigation. Sun, Moon, Stars, along with weather, sea-state and ever-present danger. “Stars in their eyes”, “The far sight”, and “That far-away look”, were terms often used to describe sailors.

Yes, sailors knew their place, in the scheme of things. They lived within an ever-present context, of their own insignificance against the vast and majestic backdrop of ocean, sky, space and stars.

Superstition, and above all, belief, were things that defined sailors. Probably no other group of wordly men ever cried out to God so often, and so naturally. When one is far away on the ocean, in storm and in peril, then God is a word never far from one’s lips.

I was never very good at Celestial Navigation. My first Sun Sight, taken at noon, on a stormy, lumpy sea, placed me somewhere in southern Idaho, fully five-hundred miles from where I actually was. Not a lot of use, really, and so I gave up on the sun, and explored using the stars, instead.

Aldebaran, Sirius, Canopus, Betelgeuse, Polaris. Names I came to know, intimately, and by sight, in the mystical vault of the night skies. The sight-reduction tables never did make any sense to me, and so I blundered about the ocean, narrowly missing this, and that, but always, always in touch with, and awed by, the stars.

Now we peer into LCD screens and interrogate distant satellites to find out where we are. It is easy, and convenient, like so much of life has become, in modern times.

Never lost, and never stretched. Never challenged and never alone. It should be a better state of affairs, shouldn’t it? So why isn’t it?

Well. It really doesn’t matter, where we are, within that one hundred feet of probable error that GPS satellites endow us with. Not when everything else is placed into perspective. More important to know what we are. Who we are. Why we are.

The stars give us a means by which to discover these things. Perspective and context. Our individual egos shrink and cower before the vastness and majesty. The Milky Way embraces us, and reminds us: we are not far, far away from it, or it from us; but that instead, we are it, and it us.

Make a point, make a pilgrimage, to a darkened place, the higher the better, where city lights do not intrude. Where the air is clear and the horizon far. Look up, look out, look to the farthest reaches of yourself, and see.

Smile and be brave: fall into the sky.

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