My bucket list is limited to one real desire. I’d like to travel from the North end of Chile to the extreme Southern end, with maybe a side trip, perhaps a jaunt over the Andes to fish in a Patagonian river.
“Why on earth would you want to do that?” my brother asked with a shake of his head.
“I want to see a desert where it has never rained. I want to see the stark harshness of the Atacama. I want to see the Andes, drink some wine in Santiago, eat a meal in Valparaiso, and finally, pitch my tent at the very edge of Tierra Del Fuego, on a crisp, clear night and lay on my back and see the Southern Stars.”
He shook his head again. It did not sound interesting to him.
I wonder what it would be like to wake up one night, that clear, crisp night, and walk out my own door only to see the Southern sky over my head. I think I would notice it immediately. I think my eyes would be drawn to it much as if they are drawn to a lightning flash on a humid July evening. There’s no way I would not notice it.
I have been fortunate to live in a place where there is not very much in the way of sky-glow. When it’s night time at my house, and the new moon is shining, I can turn off all the outside lights and be nearly as dark as a remote place can be. I may not be as remote as some places in the great expanse of the West, but it can be pretty dark in my own remoteness. After about twenty minutes of darkness it is remarkable what you can see in the night sky. Get out a pair of binoculars and it is astounding. There is not even any need for a telescope.
I can find the planets that have risen. Point immediately to Polaris, at the tip of Ursa Minor, pointed at by the leading edge of Ursa Major. Enjoy Orion and with a pair of binoculars slightly make out the nebula within…well, maybe I can’t see the nebula, but I know it’s there and perhaps that helps me to visualize it, since visualization and seeing are not exactly the same thing. My visualization is far more vivid.
A scan of the Pleiades with a pair of binoculars unlocks the eternity of stars it contains as those seven sisters do their heavenly dance across the sky every night. Like men of ancient times, I can gaze at the sky and wonder, pondering the wonder of my own insignificance, or, if my mood is right, ponder the earth and all in it as having been created the day I was born as is the custom of some Native American tribes. I can ponder that. I can speculate about that as I ponder. Eventually it turns to wonder and I am lost in a galaxy which is just one of millions. I feel smaller as I feel larger. There is no explanation. I just simply am at those times, and the am is wondrous.
But for all that, I have never seen the Southern sky with its strange stars, its Southern Cross, its Magellanic Cloud, or dusty Carina. I have seen pictures of them. I have seen their projections in planetariums, which was marvelous enough; but I have never seen them with my own eyes and am wistful with longing for that view. I’d like to sip hot brandy on a cold Southern night, taste the salt spray in the air at the tip of Cape Horn, and light my campfire in the Land of Fire Magellan observed in his transit. I’d like to sit there all night long, all by myself, or maybe with a friend, but silent, and just lay on the ground, my face turned to the sky, and allow myself to be filled with wonder. After all, I’m pretty Southern, and I’ve seen plenty of the Southern Northern sky. I’d like to have a chance at a heightened level of Southernness.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?