Sunday, January 31, 2010

There's an App For That

It was a moonless night in late summer and I was stretched out on the path near our campsite, just beyond the canopy of the trees where I had an uninterrupted view of the sky. We were at Tuolumne Meadows, high above the Yosemite Valley floor, a place that, in the daylight, would seem more closely related to the surface of the moon than to the vast forests and meadows and waterfalls that lay sweltering in the valley below.

The closest actual structure (unfortunately the bathroom) was ¼ mile away, so after the campfires started dying away, I could easily imagine that there was no light between me and the stars, and I had never seen so many in a single sky. I kept having the vision of a small girl with a bottle of glitter in one hand and a bottle of sequins in the other, throwing them up against black velvet. In some places they lay so thickly you couldn’t tell one from the other. In others, they were much more spread out, but not a single portion of velvet was left unadorned.

And, although the moon was not up, the stars and planets themselves were bright enough that I had a dim appreciation for what it must have been like in Galileo’s time, when the sky was dark enough that Venus cast a shadow on the earth. As I lay there, I felt no more than a speck in the cosmos, as small and far away from everyone on Earth as those stars were from me, completely alone and yet content.

For the past couple of weeks, Mars has hung like a ruby in the Eastern sky, a more vivid red than I can recall seeing it. Naturally, I had to look it up and, on January 27, Mars was the closest it had been to the Earth in almost two years. I mention this because, when I have to take Kairos out at night, I’m often caught for a moment or 10, mesmerized by the astral display and curious as to whether anyone I know is looking at exactly the same place at just that moment.

I don’t know the names of all of the constellations, just that I can lose myself looking for them and at them. And I like knowing that, right now—this actual moment—Saturn has risen, chasing the moon and Mars, all following my Gemini constellation. And I don’t even have to take the dog out or try to see through the clouds because, guess what? There’s an app for that: Planets 1.6 for the iPhone.

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