where is orion?
what equinox precession?
see that southern cross?
When I was a kid, growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, me, my family, my friends and the whole neighborhood would go sledding at night in the winter time on the hill by our school, Crestview Elementary.
The hill wasn’t a mountain or anything but it was high enough and long enough to be the best sliding hill in the world for little kids.
Our neighborhood had been built on an golf course.
The mainstreet through the neighborhood, my street, Sligh Blvd., followed a more of less, east-west path of what had been a small creek and ravine through the middle of the golf course.
Even though my Dad had grown up on the North End of Grand Rapids and knew that the property had been a golf course, he didn’t realize what building a house along what had been an existing watercourse would mean.
But we learned and relearned every spring when our basement would fill with water.
This was really odd as there were no windows in our basement but there were two floor drains that were connected to the storm sewers.
You can figure out the rest of that story.
The streets that connected to Sligh and went north and south went up hill no matter which direction you turned.
Houses were built along these streets until you got down by our house and the developer must have decided that it was just to much of a hill and the land was left vacant and a public school and park was built there.
Our house was on the south side of the street.
On the north side, there was a single row of houses and then the school property started.
Crossing the street and passing that row of houses, we were at the bottom of the longest, widest hill on the North End.
And that is what we called it.
The North End.
There was even an NE on the street signs.
People from out of town thought that the NE stood for North East.
We all knew it was for North End.
Grand Rapids, had and still has, a North End, a South End and a West Side.
Back when we had a high school, we were the CRESTON POLAR BEARS because we were on the North End.
I recently had to answer some security questions at my bank and when the lady asked what my high school mascot was, she kind of paused and then said, “You are the only Polar Bears I have ever heard of.”
But back to the hill.
It was possibly the best sliding hill ever.
It was a wide, long, long gentle slope with few trees.
A fence ran along one side where there were houses that you had to worry about if you went of to the left, which was an attraction as that side of the hill was steep but then there was that fence at the bottom.
What you wanted to do was stay on the main hill and slide as far and as long as you could.
When conditions were right, you could slide forever.
There are a lot of things I remember about sledding on that hill.
There were always a bunch of kids up there.
There was a wide range of sliding equipment from sleds and saucers to toboggans.
The single bladed snurfer came along at some point.
Over the course of the winter the snow on the hill would get packed down into something just this side of ice in an ice rink.
When that happened, all the old fashioned sleds came out and you could fly down that hill.
Then someone would build a jump and we would all take our chances with that.
No safety gear, no helmets.
Kids started showing up in school with cuts and bruises on their chins that you got laying head first on a sled and speeding down the hill with your face inches above the surface, and you chin banging on the handles.
There was that long walk back up the hill that was the price for a really long slide.
There was the cold.
There was the wet.
Winter meant a lot of cold, wet and cold, wet wool.
I can feel it.
I can smell it.
But what really sticks in my brain were the stars.
I have rarely seen stars like the stars we saw as kids sledding on Crestview hill.
In my mind, it was like the winking twinkling stars in A Charlie Brown Christmas.
When I first saw Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, I thought Mr. Van Gogh had stood on our hill in winter time.
History tells us that Starry Night was painted in June and in France, but I don’t buy it.
Mr. Vincent was here.
It is one of those time space continuum things that you understand if you stare at Starry Night long enough.
My Dad liked stars and he liked to point out stars to us kids.
I can hear him say, “That’s not a star, that’s Venus.”
I say it the same way to my Grandkidz
I listened enough to my Dad to know that the big cluster of bright starts over head was the Constellation Orion.
At some point in a night of sledding, you would get tired and lay back on the snow and look up at all those stars.
The feeling of insignificance in this world was overwhelming while at the same time you felt close to God and his creative genius.
This was deep snow for a ten year old.
It was welcome to stand up and look across the Grand River Valley to the heights on the other side of the river where a giant red K glowed in the dark marking the K Mart store on Alpine to bring you back into civilization.
Now I live in the south.
When I lived in Atlanta there was too much light to see the stars much.
Now that I live along the Atlantic Coast, I am getting reacquainted with the stars.
But there is something wrong down here.
I can’t find Orion.
I did find a couple of really cool websites that allow you to follow the night sky for your location.
My Dad would have loved that.
And from what I can learn, Orion can be seen down here, but it isn’t right up overhead but low on the horizon.
The problem there is that living in the low country, there are few places where you can get the elevation to see the horizon.
I can, of course, go over to the beach, but horizon goes off to the east and I think Orion is to the southwest.
And that got me thinking, am I far enough south to see the Southern Cross.
Always wanted to, maybe just because it is on both the Australian and New Zealand flag and maybe because of the song that was popular when I was in High School.
So into the google goes Can I see the southern cross in South Carolina.
The answer is no, but the discussion on the Wikipedia page was fascinating.
According to Wikipedia:
The bright stars in Crux [the Southern Cross] were known to the Ancient Greeks, where Ptolemy regarded them as part of the constellation Centaurus. They were entirely visible as far north as Britain in the fourth millennium BC. However, the precession of the equinoxes gradually lowered the stars below the European horizon, and they were eventually forgotten by the inhabitants of northern latitudes.
Saw that last line over.
However, the precession of the equinoxes gradually lowered the stars below the European horizon, and they were eventually forgotten by the inhabitants of northern latitudes.
The stars were eventually forgotten by the inhabitants of northern latitudes.
I don’t know why I didn’t know that.
That the stars themselves are in motion.
Well, no that’s not it, but that the earth relationship to the stars is in motion.
In another 4,000 years the Southern Cross will be back up here.
Not sure that I would trade Orion.