25 August 2014


I woke up at 2:30 this morning, and as I went down into the kitchen for a drink, I saw the stars winking at me through the window. So I stepped out onto the balcony, and was overwhelmed. The display was dazzling last night.

A friend of mine talked some time ago about the importance of naming, how the pleasure of experiencing a garden, for example, is increased by being able to name the plants. I get that. I enjoy being able to call weeds by their name when I yank them out ("Take that, evil cranesbill! Out you go, knapweed!"), but even better, knowing friendly plants ("There's rosemary, that's for remembrance." - okay, sorry, that's off topic.). Naming something gives you a little bit of ownership over it, or perhaps some kinship with it.

And so last night, what drew me out on the balcony was the Pleiades, das Siebengestirn - the Sevenstars, that clear cluster which in this hemisphere and at our latitude (50°N, if you must know) is not commonly visible earlier in the year just after dark, so it's a bit of a treat to be able to see it. It was almost directly east, about half-way up in the sky. And just over from it was Capella, in Auriga. In July, around 10:00 PM, it appears just over the horizon to the north; it's exceptionally bright, and it twinkles red and blue - really! - so that when I first saw it some years ago I spent quite some time arguing with my brothers-in-law who were visiting about whether it was a star or a satellite. (I can't remember what my side of the argument was, but looking it up soon turned up the facts of the matter - and the name.)

First I put on my glasses last night, then I went for the binoculars and the star chart. And so I became acquainted with Perseus. No relation to Percy Jackson - well, actually, yes relation to Percy Jackson, I believe he's named after the constellation. Or both the constellation and the teen demigod are named after the Greek hero, whose deeds I can't remember. Perseus (the constellation) is really bright, easy to spot. And it pleases me that I now know another name of a star cluster. It makes the wonder of a brilliant night sky that much deeper - and yet more intimate.

Life, the Universe, and Gazing at the Stars. I love them more for knowing their names.


  1. Anonymous26/8/14 02:26

    So whimsical! There is truly something to be said for naming. It does indeed give us ownership, and also, it helps us to open a file for that item, and then catalogue it appropriately. I always look for Mars. It's the red one that doesn't twinkle--just a steady glow. My favorite.

    1. The problem with Mars is that it's not a star, but a planet, so it moves around. I haven't seen it much around here. But a few years back for a couple of summers, we got a very consistent view of Jupiter - now that was cool. Even was able to make out the moons through our little telescope.

  2. Anonymous3/9/14 14:25

    One of the first things I did with the Girl (back when she was the Bebe) was to walk her around my tiny little apartment, pointing at things and naming them.

    "Book. Purple book. Wall. White wall. Pillow. Green pillow."

    It was one of the few things that comforted her* and I found the ritual oddly satisfying as well. It gave me a measure of control over a situation that was hideously out of control. I'd always had a love affair with words. Those dark days gave me insight into their magical properties.

    Serenity through naming.


    * - Colic/allergies to EVERY freaking thing.

    1. And of course, the very first thing we do with our kids is name them...