And, having experienced the moment of the Sun on the shoulders of Orion, it seemed appropriate to wait until the the opposite moment, when the Moon sat on the shoulders of Orion just before the Midwinter.
Alas. It’s cloudy here. So you’ll have to make do with a screen capture from the app StarWalk2, showing the position of the Moon slightly above the horizon, and forming an alignment of sorts with the theoretical head the great hunter. Ah, the wonders of modern technology.
Of course, I gushed about it on social media a little, because it feels important; those who seem to make Orion an important part of their experience of the night sky reported in that it felt a little more powerful, a little more changed tonight, than on other nights. I’m not trying to re-start Neolithic religion here, Gordon, I promise — but wow. It did feel like a different night than usual, for sure.
And some of that is on me. On us. I mean, if we moderns invest our time and attention on things like this moment, then it becomes important. Not because it was important then, (though it may have been), but because it is important to us now.
My father was a navigator for the US Naval Air Service, back in the day. I spoke with him tonight, and I mentioned that I was a little excited about this moment when Orion wore the Moon like a helmet, or a crown. And I could almost hear his shrug over the phone.
“Sure,” he said. “The full Moon before the winter solstice, when Aldebaran is right there… we used to use that as a homing signal on flights over the Pacific. It’s a stunning sight, isn’t it?”
And the wind died in my sails a bit. Because of course a Pacific navigator would know about such things. My father and his squadron mates were flying by the island-hopping method from central California to Saigon and back, or from California to Alaska and back, all through the 1960s. Flight or ocean-going, the winds and tides and placement of islands and placement of stars were always on their mind. So has it ever been. So will it always be, for as long as the Pacific is navigable, I suspect — the navigators will always know more than the ordinary folks, and sometimes the ordinary folks know more than the magicians.
The moon came out a little bit, and I was able to snap a quick photo of her through the branches of the trees. She’s a stunning sight, wreathed in fog and crowned (or perhaps more than usual, bodied) with stars.
It was cold outside, of course. The act of standing on my porch and breathing also seemed to awaken something in the dogs down the street, who were exceptionally interested in barking at something. There’s a threat of snow tonight, and the outside walks are slippery with black ice. I don’t wish to put down salt if I don’t have to, either — there’s a brook close by, and who wants to make things difficult for the land so soon after moving in? And inside was so tempting, so very tempting. The fire in the wood stove leapt to life mere moments after my candles were lit and I lifted my voice to say some old, old words of greeting.
I found some ways of celebrating, of course. Because sometimes it’s better to light some candles than curse the darkness.