Late last night, fueled by the residual adrenaline of a hectic court day and the leftover caffeine from a combination of migraine medicine and sweet tea at supper, I went outside to walk around for a while. There is nothing like darkness, nature’s darkness broken only by distant starlight, to remind a person of her smallness and the smallness of the things and thoughts that cultivate discontent.
I moved away from the cones of light cast by the floodlights at the corners of the house, being careful not to step in one of the holes that Owen has dug in the front yard, and made my way toward the edge of the field that will soon be planted with cotton seed. The evening damp settled on my hands and cheeks and in the distance I heard the dull hum that is the relentless rush of traffic on the interstate.
In the absence of clouds, the stars were bright enough to create shadows — the light pole a long smudge across my driveway, the places where my brother had turned the tractor wavy lines like rick-rack — and I tilted my head to find the Big Dipper. It is the only constellation I can ever find with any consistency, any accuracy. Locating the large ladle in the endless sky is like placing a push pin on a map. You are here.
But the Big Dipper is not what I saw. What I saw was Orion. Clear as day. Exactly like a textbook photo.
It’s funny what happens when you see something you don’t expect to see. Something you’ve never seen before. Something you’ve never been able to see before. What happens is that you doubt yourself, your vision. You shake your head and blink your eyes and, when mere blinking doesn’t change what you see, you close them and you count to 10 and look again.
And when it’s still Orion dangling there in the southwest sky, you take a deep breath and stare in amazement. Motionless, silent amazement.
I don’t know how long I stared. How long I stood in the darkness looking up at the light. How long I held my arms around my chest as though to hold in a heart that might explode with astonishment at any moment.
It’s funny what happens when you see something you have never seen before. What happens when you choose to believe yourself, your vision. You want to see more, know more.
So this morning I went searching. I found that while it was the Greeks who gave the constellation the name Orion, “the hunter,” the Babylonians called it “the heavenly shepherd.” The three stars that are generally described as Orion’s belt are known as The Three Marys in Spain and Latin America and the Lakota Native Americans call it Tayamnicankhu, the spine of a bison. In some Hungarian traditions, it is known as a “judge’s stick.” I smiled when I read that, imagining the judges before whom I appear wielding a stick rather than a gavel.
I have a couple of theories as to why I was suddenly able to see Orion when I never had before. The first one has to do with a change in my contact lenses. That theory is a lot less fun than the second, which is that magic still exists and occasionally the necessary ingredients — in this case a cool clear night, caffeine, and a woman with a vivid imagination and an affinity for mystery — come together to cast a spell of enchantment.
I’m going with Theory No. 2.