the little dipper
I’ve always had a weird fascination with stars. As a kid, I remember waking up in the middle of the night to go to the beach and watch this crazy, crazy meteor shower. Another time, I set my alarm for 2am so I could go out on my neighbor’s roof and search for shooting stars with him. And today, I do my best to look up to find any in this washed out city — letting myself appreciate even a few small blinking dots. (They’re probably just planes, but shhh.)
But what are stars, really? The boring answer is they’re huge exploding balls of gas that are roughly, oh, 25,300,000,000,000 miles away. They’re (literally) hot commodities with a surface temp of 100,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless, it’s an interesting concept. Most dont really care to know about the thermonuclear fusion of hydrogen, or its radiative and convective processes, or even that they’re biiiillions of years old (great retirement plan, huh?). Instead, there’s this universal (pun!) feeling of peace, wonder, mystery, and romance, as we glance up at these incredibly massive spheres of plasma, recreating them into tiny, twinkling dots of hope — and comfort.
Which brings me to this photo, courtesy of Nat Geo:
Here, a man gazes out at the stars along a beach in Southern Malawi. I was struck by this photo when I saw it for a few reasons. First, well, I thought this was a picture of someone on the moon (woops), but once I realized he was on solid (earth) ground, I mused at how he could literally… be anywhere. And this reminded me of when I stumbled upon my own African shoreline, and gazed out into an abyss of starry dots. I was wondering where the hell I was — I was in such a foreign place — but I looked up at a familiar sky, and felt a tension between the ordinary and the unremarkable.
I had arrived in Ghana a few weeks prior, and when I wandered to this beach, this was the first time I saw three little dots in a row: the tail of the Little Dipper. I didn’t know what I was actually seeing at the time, but that overwhelming moment of realizing where I so significantly and insignificantly was, was marked by these three stars. I never really took the time to figure out and identify constellations. Stars are seemingly chaotic; how was I supposed to look up and find these patterns in the sky?)
And these three little dots followed me. I made a note to look after them as I traveled to other shore lines, villages and jungles. And when I returned to New York — icy and bitter, fast— I continued to gaze out at what were now my little dots, pretending I was back in the warm palms of Western Africa, recreating memories and moments that were thousands of miles and minutes away, by simply looking up.
And I dunno, it’s a cool concept to me. That we can literally be anywhere in the world and see the same three blinking stars, reproducing them into whatever memory or emotion or concept we’d like. Stars can connect so many person on this earth, making the world seem a bit smaller as we gaze at these ginormous astrological objects that are incredibly out of reach but so conveniently wrapped up in our minds eye.