Almanack Essays: Earth Astronomy

Followed by Sirius, the Dog Star, the constellation Orion accompanies the Dog Days of middle summer as it moves into the center of the southern sky at noon. A simple star chart reveals all this, but the land itself gives plain cues about the heavens.

When one thing is happening, says the first law of phenology, something else is happening, too. Finches in the thistledown, cicadas calling through the day, katydids at night, all pull the Dog Days in. This is simple earth astronomy in which the plants and insects read the stars, even when the midday sun keeps those stars from view.

Earth astronomy is like a formula of space and events in which one factor could be the sky and another factor could be elderberry fruit and blueberries and summer peaches, and the solution or the conclusion could lie in seeing them reflecting one another, shining like rays of a true grid of creation, constellations of close and distant objects, stars that may have died a billion years ago, still shining to us in their lanky formations, placed into shapes by our minds, tied to other shapes all around us, so that Canis Major and Orion, the signature star groups of the noontime Dog Days, end up hiding in the tangle of velvet leaf and water hemlock, burdock, stonecrop, Joe Pye weed, plants that move in time across the wheel of Earth just like Sirius and its cohorts drift above the southern horizon.



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