Sky Readers [Aeon]

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This an an excerpt of an essay that first appeared in Aeon.

When all the stars were ready to be placed in the sky, First Woman said:

I will write the laws that are to govern mankind for all time. These laws cannot be written on the water as that is always changing its form, nor can they be written in the sand as the wind would soon erase them, but if they are written in the stars they can be read and remembered forever.

Navajo creation story quoted in ‘Fire in the Mind: Science, Faith and the Search for Order’ (1995) by George Johnson

Some years ago, I visited a gallery that specialised in Inuit art, and the owner shared with me a small but powerful memory. She had a close relationship with many of her artists, one of whom had shown up for a visit late on a winter’s night. Like many of us, the first thing he did was call home on his cellphone, to let his wife know he had arrived safely. Unlike most of us, especially on a frigid winter’s night, he did so out in the yard. He needed to see the sky so he could tell his wife what the stars looked like from Richmond in Virginia, while she scanned the sky at her end, in far Hudson Bay. In that way, he connected with her, both of them finding one another in the world through that useful intelligence of distant stars.

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This article led to an interview entitled “What We Lose When We Don’t Look At The Night Sky” with Rob Ferret of Wisconsin Public Radio. You can listen to the interview here.

Image: Hubble Ultra Deep Field, NASA. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.