The ecliptic, the path that the earth takes on its yearly journey around the sun, arcs across the sky above the night ocean in front of me.
Tonight, Scorpio is rising to the east and Libra, Virgo, Leo and Cancer are part of the band of constellations sweeping across the sky in front of me from right to left. Gemini is setting in the west where there is still an ever so faint glow from the sun, which dipped below the horizon several hours ago. Venus shines brightly to the northwest. Higher up on the ecliptic is Jupiter and still farther to the east is Saturn, a faint glow near the tail of Scorpio.
I never knew about the stars. I guess I was never interested. But somehow being here, where each evening the night sky spreads out like a dark magician’s cloak above the Pacific Ocean, I’ve become interested in them. And as it turns out, the stars on the ecliptic are perfectly positioned here to watch above the dark sea. I never saw so many stars when I was in Colorado Springs, or only when I was camping in the mountains, or roaming the deserts of Utah. Here, almost every night the stars are magnificent.
Now I’ve learned the names of many of the constellations and even of individual stars. I know about declination and right ascension, which are the latitude and longitude of the celestial sphere. I know where the earth is on its path around the sun, and the number of degrees above the horizon I can expect to find the sun at noon on almost any day.
I can see the glow of the star Arcturus tonight directly out to sea, and think how far away it is, only 36.7 light years. I could have made it there in my lifetime. But other stars are hundreds and thousands of light years away. I could never have made it to them even if I had started at birth, and that is if I were travelling at the speed of light (something I am not capable of).
An app on my iPhone shows me the stars and constellations even during the day, where behind the bright sky they glow and twinkle unbeknownst to our eyes. By tilting the phone downward and looking through the center of the earth, I can see the Big and Little Dippers and Polaris, the North Star, not visible from where we are in the Southern Hemisphere, but twinkling above the skies in Colorado and the Northern Hemisphere.
But sometimes, despite all my new knowledge, I just go and sit on a small bluff above the beach on these dark nights and think. What do I think about? Anything and everything. It’s a cliché to say how small and insignificant we are, but here in front of me I have the innumerable sands on the beach, the vastness of the Pacific Ocean, and the uncountable stars and galaxies extending outward forever, farther than my pea-sized brain could ever comprehend. Infinity. And I am nothing and everything.
Far out on the ocean, container ships lit up like Christmas trees ply the waters. The beach is empty, and the glistening ocean stretches out toward South America. The surf rustles softly tonight against the shoreline. And I am alone with the stars, these little points of light, companions on my wayward journey through life.