Monday, November 08, 2004

The Morning Sky

Three weeks ago, I was in the middle of the State of North Dakota to hunt geese. North Dakota is a place famous for its low population, cold winters and great outdoors. Its a place where waterfowl hunting is an annual ritual that occurs this time of the year when the Canadian geese begin their migration south. In my youth, my father would take me goose hunting most years. After several years away from the sport, I only recently took it up again.

I don't know how you feel about hunting; I love it. But allow me to try and steer clear of any controversy around hunting in this article: not because I'm afraid of defending responsible hunters, but mostly because... well, I didn't get a goose on this trip and hunting isn't the point of today's story anyway. Its more of an excuse for the story. Besides, the safest place for a goose to be during hunting season is within range of my gun.

For me hunting is an excuse to get out into the natural environment, and see things that I never get to see in my regular structured life. If I don't come home with anything, I'm usually not very disappointed, and neither is Jane because she doesn't like the taste of wild goose anyway.

I arrived the night before, expecting an early start to the day. At 6:00 am, I was dressed in my camo jacket and pants. In my excitement I had awaken too early and now had some time on my hands. It was cold that morning, about 16 degrees F., but since I was wrapped up nice and warm, I decided to go outside. I might as well get acclimated to the temperature while I was waiting for my cousin to pick me up.

It was a perfectly cloudless, pitch black, moonless morning, with no yardlights, and no city light pollution. I sat in a chair and looked up at the stars, amazed at my luck! As my eyes adjusted to the light, the sky changed from pitch black to the gray illumination that comes from the ancient light of billions of stars. What a splendid and amazing sight! I had forgotten just how many stars there are in the sky, and how small my place is in the universe.

In the eastern sky, I noticed two bright objects which I presumed Venus and Mercury. I don't think I had ever seen Mercury before, but it was a bright and the perfect companion for Venus, portending the sunrise.

Suddenly a meteor shot out of the east. It was a bright green light with a long trail arcing across the sky. Exhilorated, I was now looking specifically for meteors. I actually saw several, though most were very dim, with short trails almost difficult to notice.

As I studied the sky for meteors, I saw a satellite cutting across the sky, when it burst into a very bright flare before continuing on dimly and then vanishing. Soon after I saw another satellite. And another satellite, until pretty soon, about all I am noticing are these dang satellites moving through the night.

I remember the first time I saw an orbiting satellite in the sky. I must have been about 11 years old, sleeping beneath the stars to earn a scout badge. It was so interesting to me then, and it was the only one we saw that night. Nearly 30 years later, the night sky is full of them, and on this day I judged them to be much less interesting, less mysterious, one more sign of man's continuing encroachment on the environment.

I was wondering why NASA couldn't invent some kind of anti-reflectant for satellites to preserve the tranquility of the night sky, when bright headlights burst into the yard. My wide open pupils closed tightly in response, and my star gazing was done. It was my cousin's pick up truck, complete with goose decoys in the back. I walked over and greeted my cousin, placed my Browning shotgun in the back, and I was off on my next adventure.

Todays lesson: There are amazing things to be seen if we will only open our eyes.

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