From the numbers of television monitors tuned to one news channel or another at the gym where I work out, I know that many people watch the news regularly. The latest on “what’s happening in the world” flows into some homes all day, every day. In my estimation, news sources currently focus on what’s going wrong with the world. On violence, crime, war, and politics. Reporters arriving at the scene of a crime before first responders, asking a victim how he feels at losing his entire family in a car crash. Sensational journalism at its worst. Add to that, pundit’s opinions and false news.
When I was eight and our family acquired its first black-and-white Sylvania TV, my mom made sure our household watched the six o’clock news every evening before supper so we could keep up with what Walter Cronkite had to say and could discuss “what was happening in the world” over the meal. If “what’s happening in the world” were reported these days as such, I might tune in from time to time, just to stay up-to-date. Seems those days have disappeared.
Now when I arrive at the gym, Pollyanna here tunes right out. I always switch the monitor in front of the elliptical I’m sweating on to the Food Network. Pure head in the sand news-wise but I garner yummy cooking ideas from the Barefoot Contessa, get a peek at ranch life from The Pioneer Woman, locate terrific eateries on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and laugh along with crazy-like-a-fox Guy Fieri. And I don’t leave the gym depressed, as can often happen with the “real” news.
Makes one wonder how many people are driving around in their cars feeling down-doobie-do-down-down from listening to the “news.” A great reason to drive defensively.
Should you find that the news is bringing you down, may I offer a simple solution? Turn it off! Just punch that Power button on the remote, watch the screen turn black and put down the channel changer. Now head outdoors. Breathe in the fresh Lowcountry air and thank your lucky stars you live in this exquisite, natural part of the world. Now look up. It can be day or night. The celestial canopy beats any-sized big screen by far for pure wonderment.
Though I may not need to, I’ll explain.
My fascination with the heavens began early in life, when my dad would announce every August the date of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. He’d spread a patch-block quilt in a treeless area of our backyard. Mom would stir up a big pitcher of lemonade to cool our thirsts on a hot night. Accompanied by the songs of crickets, we’d all lie and gaze up, awaiting those magnificent shooting stars, which always came and always blazed with picture-book long trails across the night sky.
The good news – and this is real news – is that they still do. By the dozens. The dark Lowcountry sky is a perfect background. Away from the lights of town. Every August. Google the date and put it on your calendar. Don’t forget your Green Bug!
Reason enough to look up into the nighttime sky are the celestial bodies themselves – the stars, planets and constellations, even when they’re not “performing.” On a clear, moonless night settle on a chaise longue that doesn’t compromise your neck and allow yourself to get lost in the star show. Zero in on familiar constellations: Leo, Orion, Cassiopeia, Cygnus (The Northern Cross). Let your eyes travel along the Milky Way, remembering that, though it looks like a gauzy path because we are viewing it from within, it is in fact the disk-like galaxy that includes our Solar System. Marvel at the sheer enormity of the vision before you.
Find the Big Dipper and measure five times the distance from the outermost star of the “bowl” to locate the North Star, which became a beacon to lead enslaved people in the southern United States north to freedom. The constellation that looks like a handled ladle, or drinking gourd, has been immortalized in African-American songs and lore.
The first time I traveled to Alaska and stepped outside at night, I immediately realized why the Big Dipper graces the state’s flag. That constellation is absolutely enormous in those northern skies. Another opportunity to look up in awe in the land of sled dogs is the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. All worth a trip to this oft-chilly area.
Whether full or partial, eclipses of the moon and sun are always worth a look and give a clear perspective about our Earth’s place in relation to these nighttime and daytime orbs. Should you ever have the opportunity to witness a total eclipse of the sun, snap up a pair of protective glasses and enjoy the amazing show. During totality, all 360 degrees of the horizon mimic dawn and dusk, as if the sun is about to rise or has just set. The sight is memorable.
The wide skies have always lured creative folks, who look up, become inspired by what they see, and dream up something glorious. In 1965 prolific artist Georgia O’Keefe used the sky as model for her largest painting, a 24’ x 8’ canvas entitled “Above the Clouds.” French military aviator and writer Antoine de St. Exupery embraced the skies as settings for his lyrical writings on aviation and for one of the best-selling, most beloved books ever published, The Little Prince.
A rainbow always inspires wonderment. All those colors seem to appear magically and in order. I wonder if anyone has ever found the ever-elusive pot of gold at the end. Hmm…. Rainbows also appear in the phenomenon called parhelia, sun dogs, or mock suns, which appear as bright bits of rainbow on either side of the sun. While rainbows themselves are caused by sun shining through water drops, parhelia appear when sun shines through ice crystals contained in cirrus clouds on high, most frequently seen when the sun is lower on the horizon. Then there’s the circumzenithal arc, or Smile in the Sky. I won’t go on but if any of this interests you, by all means Google any of these for a compelling read. Then start looking up!
The heavens hold so many more reasons to look up: day moons, evening fingernail moons, sunrises and sunsets, and of course, the green flash, a spark of green light that appears on top of the setting sun, usually over the ocean. Until I finally witnessed one in Hawaii, I thought that particular phenomenon was a story birthed in Key West from alcohol consumption at pre-sunset happy hour.
Years ago, my amateur-astronomer cousin assured me that twinkling stars still “hang” in their appointed positions deep in space during daytime on the earth. We just can’t see them. Even now, wrapping my mind around that fact is a stretch. Sometimes, I look up during the day, just in case one has turned its light on early.
So, did any of those reasons to look up make you feel remotely down? I would hope not. And that’s the point. You can certainly choose to listen to the news, but if it’s causing you to feel fear, anxiety, or glum gums of any sort, at least change the channel to something more upbeat. Or even better, turn that TV off, scoot outside, and look up.
K.D. Lang nails the feeling you’re likely to experience: “The sky is an infinite movie to me. I never get tired of looking at what’s happening up there.”
Nor do I.