Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Beauty of A Winter Sky


The sky grew darker, painted blue on blue, one stroke at a time, into deeper and deeper shades of night.”

Haruki Murakami,

He who marvels at the beauty of the world in summer will find equal cause for wonder and admiration in winter.

John Burroughs 

    We have finally started to have a winter we are familiar with around here. We have had several consecutive days of temperatures in the low 30’s and 20’s, and we are all bundled up and wearing ear muffs, gloves, layers, and down coats. The heat has been on for several nights in a row now, and there are oil trucks seen on the streets. We have had a light snow in our immediate area, and people near us had several inches with the discomfort and change in routines and schedules such an event brings. It has been getting darker earlier for several weeks now, but in the past two weeks it seems to have FELT darker earlier as we are now all hunched up and bundled.  I love observing the world around me and paying attention to the changes in wildlife, the natural scenery and especially the sky. And while I am not fan of being cold, I do truly love early winter. It looks and feels like no other time of the year. There is a clarity, crispness and directness about this time of the year that appeals to me. And the winter sky? Well it is absolutely amazing.

     I no longer teach, but I still love being outside in early evening and arising early in the morning. I do that because there is grandeur in the winter night sky for me, and I love to experience it both as it starts and as it ends. The sky somehow seems bigger, bolder, and more dramatic in this part of the year. The blueness and the darkness seem a little more intense, a little more “there” and present. At this time of the year we can look straight up into the night, and we encounter it more directly. There are no leaves on the trees to block out the sky, and there are fewer "scenic distractions” on the ground. The stars are clearer and brighter, the moon is more obvious and radiant, and there just seem to be more planets waiting to be seen. It is a treat for me. I love watching the moon going through its phases at this time of the year; we can see them all so clearly and for such a long time. Full Moon, New Moon, Quarter Moon, waxing and waning, alternately hiding behind clouds on some nights, and shining brightly and boldly on others. The moon seems more present in the early winter sky, more like the ethereal watchman watching over us. And it is on these nights that so many of the ancient myths and tales we heard in school and/or that our parents told us make a little more sense. The night truly seems mysterious, powerful, and beautiful. And maybe a little ominous as well.

    I also like trying to find the planets and constellations that are so much more visible now.  I live in Mt. Airy, and Orion the Hunter has been bold and bright early evenings in the southeast sky. His club is clear and visible, and he makes for a fierce presence over the buildings and the city.  The Dippers will be seen in the northwest sky as well, and I love noting them. When I am out walking at 6 AM in the morning and look to the southwest, Venus and Jupiter are there shining brightly. Venus has been spectacular this winter; it is the third brightest planet in our morning sky, and it has been glowing magnificently, occasionally with a seeming halo around it. And if I make it up to Chestnut Hill and look back the sky from there, I can see Venus fading out of sight just as the sun’s rays color the clouds pink and white and blue and red. A new say is here. And whether it is early morning or early evening, whenever I take a walk around the block or just stand outside my door and look up, I am amazed and comforted by that amazing winter sky. And when I am sad, worried or uneasy or feeling sorry for myself, looking up at that sky. Its many wonders brings me peace and calms me.

   This weekend the sky will outdo itself and present something rare and special as an added treat. From about 11:40 PM Sunday night until 12:45 AM Monday morning in the Philadelphia area the moon will pass between the earth and the sun, entering a total lunar eclipse that will make the moon seem a bright rusty red-a Super Blood Moon.  And the moon will be as close as possible to earth at that time-a Super Moon, so two rare celestial phenomena will be occurring at the same time. I shall be up and out, taking it all in and marveling. Hopefully there will be little cloud cover-if there is a heavy cloud cover the eclipse might not be visible. But visible or not, I will be out there looking up. Knowing it is happening and being in its presence is enough for me. The winter sky makes the cold and the bundling and shivering all just a little more bearable and a little more beautiful and provides wonder. It is truly a treat to behold. It is all free and it is always there; all we have to do is simply look up. Happy viewing.

(If you are looking for info on how to watch the Supper Moon eclipse,  )


  If you have not decided what to do for the King Day of Service, here is a link to the Philadelphia area’s MLK Day of Service activities:


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