Archive for astronomy

Most of the Stars

Posted in Classic Sci-Fi, Mystical Experience, World Myths with tags , , , , , , on March 10, 2012 by javedbabar

“Where’s the sci-fi section?” Gemma asked the librarian. “There? Over there? Uh, ok.” She walked over to the wall filled with her favourite writers – Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Robert Heinlein, William Gibson, Philip K. Dick. She’d read them all. There aren’t too many women authors, thought Gemma. There’s Ursula Le Guin and Margaret Atwood, but that’s pretty much it. I wonder why? Maybe I will become a sci-fi author to swell their ranks.

She wandered by mistake into the poetry section. P is pretty close to S. She didn’t mind skipping the Romance section. Romance books are often cheesy, and always stupid. She’d rather do it than read about it anyway, so never mind.

Let’s take a look at the poetry, she thought. William Shakespeare… To be or not to be, that is the question. William Wordsworth… I wandered lonely as a cloud. William Blake… Tyger! Tyger! burning bright, in the forests of the night. Walt Whitman… I sing the body electric. It was great to see more women here. Maya Angelou… You may trod me in the very dirt, but still, like dust, I’ll rise. Emily Dickenson… Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me. Sylvia Plath… I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead; lift my eyes and all is born again. Kathleen Raine… And see the peaceful trees extend their myriad leaves in leisured dance….

She saw an old book out of place among the new ones. It was pretty battered. A layer of dust slipped off when Gemma retrieved it. Its outer was deepest blue, reminding her of night sky, and the same colour continued within, featuring the sun, moon, planets, stars, and comets. The image must have been over-printed many times to achieve such depth of colour. The book was called “Most of the Stars”, and consisted of one long poem which began:

“Most of the stars rose up within in her;

And she met her needs by reflection…”

Beside these lines was the stunning image of an upside-down, inside-out, heavenly goddess. It was a most unusual illustration, possibly Victorian. The lines were clean, yet held great fluidity. Gemma wondered how she could be standing proudly, but also be upside-down? And have a substantial body, but also be inside-out? The celestial objects filling her body made it heavenly; to know her required stellar navigation.

The Goddess reminded Gemma of her teenage years. They were very difficult years. Her skin changed as she grew. Multi-coloured blotches appeared across her body. The doctor said that they were unusual, but nothing to worry about, merely pigmentation abnormalities, known unofficially as “Spectral Skin”. But as Gemma continued her study of stars, she noticed that her blotches were not random patterns. They matched the positions of heavenly bodies, and moved around. There were ten main blotches that circled around her, appearing and disappearing around her front and back. Gemma knew that her search must be among the stars.

She recalled her childhood’s most thrilling event: visiting the planetarium. Entering its vast, cool white dome made her think of the inside of her skull. The stars appeared magically, and shone everywhere forever. Wherever she looked, there was sky.

The Goddess in the book seemed Mistress of the heavens’ motion. She could see the stars from any position in the world, at any point in time. She seemed a living starball, and also a spherical projection screen.

“Do you want a telescope for your birthday?” her father had asked her. “You spend so much time with your head out of the window, you may as well.”

“That would be great,” she’d said, and was soon an amateur astronomer. She peered at the moon mostly, saw its craters and scars – that poor little thing had really taken a battering. Mars had also had a rough ride, and were those long streaks really canals made my Martians? Saturn’s rings were creepy, looking like they would cut it in half, like a magician’s bad trick. Most of all she loved Jupiter’s red blob, like a bloody eye, staring back at her. Plus all the comets, nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies. She wondered how this universe formed.

Her mother read their horoscopes daily. She said, “The stars are fate, showing secrets permanent and predestined.” She’d call out, “Honey, do you want to hear what’s going to happen to you today?” They were never very accurate though. Gemma found a website that asked for your time and place of birth. It calculated the positions of the sun, moon, and planets above that particular place at that precise moment, and predicted everything about you. Its central principle was that of our cosmic integration, recognizing divine communications within celestial cycles. It said, “The cosmic order determines the place of everything in the universe – stars, planets, people. We were not apart from anything, ever.”

When Gemma had problems she didn’t take them personally. She knew them as opportunities written in the stars. She realized that we see the world as we are. As above, so below. As within, so beyond. The planets circled around her always. And her soul was their sun. What she yearned for now was a Starman. A Tyger who truly was, to join her lonely wanderings. To rise like stardust together. To lift their eyes. He would extend his hand and ask her to dance. Till death stopped for them.

“Excuse me,” said a bookish boy. “Do you know where the sci-fi section is?”

Invisible Horses

Posted in Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , on January 28, 2012 by javedbabar

Ben used to hear the horses outside his bedroom window. They snorted with surprise and delight, and the earth would shake as they tore across the field. He didn’t see them much in daytime, but at night he heard their strange language of frothy laughs and hoof clicks. He didn’t know much about animals, but the horses seemed happy here. They were rescued horses; who knew what horrors they had endured? No longer whipped at a circus, choked in a mine, or stuck in a filthy basement. Now a field in the Lucerne Valley – surrounded by forests, rivers, mountains, and glaciers – was their home.

But a beautiful location attracts attention. The owner made the mistake of mentioning to a real estate agent at a Christmas cocktail party that she was thinking of selling. The agent had “motivated” buyers on his books already, and the listing attracted many more. The bidding war was won by an Australian couple who wanted the land but not the horses. So the horses disappeared with the previous owners – but to where was unclear. Thankfully Ben, the tenant, could stay in his cabin.

The field outside Ben’s window was soon leased to a farmer. It was ploughed and planted – initially with clover, next year with alfalfa, and then there would be spuds. Ben got used to the silent field outside.

“Did you hear that?” he said to his girlfriend, visiting from the City.

“What’s that, love?” she whispered, moving her head slightly towards him.

“I heard the sound of running.”

“Well go join ‘em, Road Runner, I’m staying in bed.” Then she added a sleepy, “Neep-neep.”

“No, not a person,” said Ben. “A horse. I heard a horse running.”

“I thought the horses had gone, love.” He loved how she always continued conversations, however tired she was. She was especially sweet when half-asleep.

“They have,” he said. “That’s why it’s strange. There aren’t any horses there.”

Ben pushed himself out of bed and went to the window. The moon was almost full. The tight rows of the field shone silver, like a mountain Zen garden. But there was nothing to contemplate but invisible horses.

Another night, Ben heard the horses again. This time their hoof clicks were more pronounced, and echoed along the road. “Can you hear them?” he said to his girlfriend. She liked getting out of the City, and was visiting again.

“Go ride ‘em cowboy,” she said in a manner so drawn out, it became a lament.

Ben threw on his dressing gown and ran outside. He was right! A dozen horses were ambling along the road. They gathered around his neighbour’s magnolia tree, tearing off petals. Some fell like big shining teeth. Ben recognized these horses – they were the wild ones from Lilly, which grazed freely on reserve land. But he had never seen them in the Meadows before – only causing mayhem on reserve roads. He watched them wander, and sometimes canter, up the road, moonlight gleaming off their glossy backs, seeming unexpected lone waves. The next day he heard that they were rounded up, and finally put in paddocks.

Once while cooking, a little drunk, Ben left a bunch of beet tops on a fencepost. He forgot that the horses were no longer there. But in the morning the tops were gone. He wondered if the neighbour’s cow had somehow gotten to them. Would she now produce red milk?

Another day there were muddy hoof prints around the field, but it had rained plenty, so their shapes were hard to define. Large patches of clover had been grazed. Ben wondered if this was by migrating deer.

As well as hoof clicks, there were other sounds. There were long blows, like greetings; vibrating snorts, as if sensing danger; a sort of snickering, like sharing a joke; a loud whinny to attract attention; a squeal of surprise; or a scream of aggression. It must be the wind carrying these sounds, thought Ben, from stables way up the road.

The neighbour’s dogs were always barking. One night they howled, and after that only whimpered and cowered. Had they been scared by a bear?

Ben spoke of these strange occurrences to an Old Cowboy he knew. The Cowboy said that he would come over one night, make a fire, cook some rice and beans with bacon, sip whisky, and watch. “There is more to horses than you’ll ever know,” he said. “Tell me when your girlfriend’s visiting. We can show her something special. Mind you, I’m not sayin’ you don’t already.”

When Ben’s girlfriend next came, they joined the Cowboy around the campfire. He was making lots of food. “Why so much?” asked Ben.

“You’ll see,” he said evasively.

Ben wondered if they would be feeding the invisible horses. When four pickups arrived, he realized they were feeding cowboys. They ate and drank and sang all night. The campfire talk was pretty rich, and Ben’s girlfriend said she was going to bed. What a waste of time this has all been, thought Ben, and followed her in.

“You’ll miss the show,” said the Old Cowboy, slurred and smiling.

“Well, why don’t you wake us up for it?” said his girlfriend.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

There was a dark tapping on the window, blended with light thundering. Ben and his girlfriend went outside.

“Look,” said the Cowboy, pointing to the sky.

Subtle shapes slipped across the heavens. Within these moving patches, the stars shone more brightly, as if cut out of the sky. Ben saw that there were many of these patches, and as they drew together, their thundering became intense, and neighs and whinnies echoed through darkness bejewelled. Brilliant stars glittered at the front of each surging patch. Ben gazed in wonder at these leaping constellations.

“Those horses hadn’t finished their healing yet,” said the Cowboy. “Their souls were stuck here; they couldn’t leave. We stroked them with the Old Songs and sent them on their way.”