Now rises Orion, stately, scintillating with stars.
Armed but not dangerous, he's been chasing Taurus the bull around the sky for millennia, no closer now than when he began in the mind of some Greek shepherd on some stony hillside pasture, where the stars shown with a brilliance we cannot know.
There is his faithful companion, Canis Major, at his right heel. He'll follow Orion for a million years after we're gone, eternally jangling that red and blue dog-tag, Sirius, brightest star in the sky.
It twinkles red and blue amid the white-on-black canopy of creation. Blue, red and white, the colors of love, war and peace. Bored stewards of goats and sheep connected such dots under some spell of wine or ambrosia and thereby drew regal beings across an infinite canvas. They drew gods, goddesses, warriors and fierce beasts.
Now our pathetic skies--cloaked in streetlights and haze--only suggest grandeur that was a birthright to every generation prior to WWII, when city lights began to outshine the night sky, drawing farmers and shepherds to them to re-imagine their lives.
Still, this is the sweet season for stargazers.
Most every clear night during the winter we step outside and look up. My house faces east, and an amazing procession of stars rises nightly over the near horizon. Clear chill skies loft constellations into view. Around bonfires and on hayrides, some of my neighbors briefly glimpse the languid journeys of constellations through time.
The stars are in no hurry. In our lifetime we'll notice no difference in the postures of the constellations, though computer models show how they change century by century, stretching and bending and contracting into patterns the early Greeks might not now recognize.
Surely they would know Cassiopeia, that giant, lazy W that is a queen in repose. Or the seven sister, the Pleiades, huddled together for comfort in a tiny cluster that appears to rise almost straight up the sky. That is an illusion. The sky is like a giant wheel that turns around the north star, easily visible on a straight line from the outer rim of the Big Dipper's bowl.
Stargazers know the Big Dipper is actually the tail end of Ursa Major, a black bear that nightly stalks the north star as if circling a dying campfire. He'll never find his opening though. Not in our lifetime, nor his.
Stargazers know which sights are more or less permanent and which temporary. They know how to spot Venus and Mercury in the East just now, and they know the pink gauzy curtain which fluttered across the skies earlier this week in some portions of Tennessee was the aurora borealis, or northern lights. They know the giant orange pumpkin that floated along the horizon on Oct. 31 was a blue moon, the first one to make a Halloween appearance in nearly half a century. Of course, any full moon that appears on Halloween is, by necessity, the second full moon of the month, and that's the definition of a blue moon.
But forget such diversions. The regal master of the skies this time of year is Orion. It contains more first magnitude stars than any other constellation, including those brilliant gems, Rigel and Betelgeuse (beetle-juice).
I awoke about 5 a.m. Thursday morning and there, framed perfectly in my bedside window was Orion, standing atop the tree-line on the hill outside. He stood almost straight up, having taken all night to roll up the sky to a vertical posture.
It was one of the prettiest things I've ever seen. The sky was not black, but rather was a dusky blue of pre-dawn, and against that blue the stars of Orion were diamond-sharp. His belt and scabbard were clearly delineated. The arc of his bow well-defined.
Orion is a walking contradiction. It's long been known the gauzy glow visible at Orion's belt through any decent pair of binoculars is a place where stars are being born. Their birth is on a scale we can hardly imagine. They'll be birthing long after our last monument to war and passion has quite disappeared.
Yet death lurks there too. When the Hubble Telescope focused its gaze on Orion some years back, it discovered a black hole caught in the act of stuffing suns and nebulae down a dark maw. "Foretaste of the world's end?" asked the black letters of a headline.
The universe, even as it expands outward in ever increasing speed, also swirls away into dark vortices like a thousand random thoughts contained in a day swirl away, disremembered.