Thursday, September 29, 2005

Orion in the Morning

“You know Orion always comes up sideways.
Throwing a leg up over our fence of mountains,
And rising on his hands, he looks in on me.”
--Robert Frost, Starsplitter

Yesterday as I walked Dog in pre-dawn hours of morning, I looked at the stars overhead and was surprised to see the constellation Orion, its stars only just starting to fade into the light of dawn.

Since I think of Orion as a winter constellation, when it rises in the east shortly after dark, I’d forgotten that Orion was visible now in the pre-dawn hours. At this point in the dark of early morning, Orion is full overhead, the great and mighty hunter of myth, dominating the entire sky. For me, seeing the great hunter again was like the sudden and unexpected reappearance of an old friend who I wasn’t expecting for another month or so.

The other constellations are all dwarfed by Orion’s size, and some of them require a lot of imagination to tease the picture they are supposed to represent from the stars that make them up. Not so with Orion, whose stars create the shape of a man with a belt that even a child can see.

I even like the names of the stars that make up Orion--the belt stars of Mintaka, Anilam and Alnitak, the head star of Meissa, Rigel and Bellatrix, the star Saiph. I don’t know how this last is pronounced, but I always think of it as “safe.” To me, gazing into the dark, starry heavens on a silent winter night, seeing Orion high overhead, somehow always makes me feel that I am safe. Is it even possible to gaze into the night sky, stars crystalline overhead, and feel anything but tranquil?

At this point in the year, the lines from Frost’s poem about Orion are a bit premature, but they are so beautiful I couldn’t resist. When Orion rises in the east in another month, he will do so lying on his side, and Frost’s allusion to the giant throwing a leg over the fence will be more apt. I will be out looking for Orion then, too, welcoming the giant into winter’s pasture.

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