Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The cloth of heaven

We are living in a waterworld, where the land reflects the sky and boats are suspended between the two.

All day I have concentrated again on painting the star patterns of north and south and summer and winter skies. Now it is time to sleep, but before I do I walk around the small hamlet that I call home. Outside it is still, but for the running of streams like water-music boxes. Across the moor of Treleddyd a fox argues with an owl. Above the sky has been washed clean and clear by so much rain and a bowl of stars shine down.
When I was a child I remember the disappointment in not being able to see the lions and bears and dragons and winged horses, the great dog and the small and Orion the hunter. There were no pictures in the sky, just random patterns that could add up to anything. But tonight, having traced the patterns in gold paint on blue all day, there they are, waiting for me, and so rich and beautiful. The stars of the constellations are clearer for the first time and I see the lines of the dragon, the swan, other patterns whose names escape me, but it is as if I can see the lines that join them, bind them in the ancient stories of man. And between each more stars, a dense carpet, tapestry, thrown over my head and oh so very beautiful. Just then a bright light streaks across the sky. A shooting star. A wish. I realise that I am so so very much a lucky woman to live in a dark place.
Learning to read the sky is like learning a language, like learning music, like learning to draw. It takes time and patience.
Do I see the stars any different for knowing the names of a mere handful? Maybe not, but there is a powerful old magic in the naming of things.
Now I see not just Orion's belt, but his very cloak of stars and great bow, so many stars even in just this one space. Now I see more of the depth of the sky and it makes me feel so wonderfully small and insignificant. Joy.


Morning's Minion said...

I've thought of this meaningfullness of names: somehow knowing the name of a wildflower or bird makes it more precious.

Anonymous said...

You are a lucky lady to live in a place where night brings darkness and not the man made light of night time.I too share this pleasure and it is a treasure.One feels quite small when looking up at the vast world above.Endless possibilities.Best wishes from canada

Nicole-Umina said...

I miss the southern hemisphere alot - I grew up in the country and looking up at the milky way and southern cross is part of my childhood I thought I would never loose. Hours in the back yard on a towel at night just star gazing. There are no stars in Edinburgh and things are so alien in the sky here when I do get to gaze.

Jackie Morris said...

It is strange how having the 'right' sky above can affect us. I lived in Australia for a year and one of the things I so missed was the familiar patterns in the sky.
There s a word in Welsh that cannot be translated but expresses something more than homesickness, something much deeper. Hireith. Only when I moved here did I begin to understand that feeling, not just for a place, for people too. Hirieth.
Hope I have spelled it right!

Colleen Mulrooney said...

this is beautifully written, the love of a dark sky so eloquently expressed. I too grew up in the country and and know that so much is missing from the night sky when I look up and see the urban glow instead of those familiar pin-pricks of light. On my To Do list is a trip to the desert so that I can lie on my back and soak up a night sky drenched in stars :)

Val said...

I was the opposite of Colleen. A London born child, whose night sky was a sickly orange. Now a Dorset dweller, my velvet dark sky is a perfect backdrop for the skies I dreamed of.

Ive been out in the stillness and silence of the Sinai desert, and gazed deep into galaxies until I was dizzy. But I cannot name a single constellation, and I think it ought to be that way. Or, as a librarian, I may wish to catalogue the lot - and thus the mystery would diminish.

So it was lovely to hear of your knowing of names, and the changes it brought. Beautiful.

Griffin said...

There was a fabulous exhibition at the Royal Academy years ago, called the Painted Page. It had illuminated manuscripts and one was open at two constellations.

The stars themselves were in gold leaf and the lines between were blue. As you approached you just caught the gleam of the gold, but as you got nearer the lines in between revealed themselves.

I too have learned to love stars and their queen, the bright Selene, goddess of the Moon.