Farewell Orion


The most spectacular constellation in the northern winter sky is Orion, the Hunter (named after a god from Greek mythology). By mid-April this constellation is only visible in the western sky for a couple of hours after sunset. No longer the spectacular overhead cluster of stars with its belt and sword, it is making its exodus from prominence in the sky just as winter fades. In Canada and higher elevations and latitudes in the U.S. there may still be snow on the ground. In milder parts of North America Orion takes his leave as tulips bloom, daffodils fade, and lilac buds begin to form.

By May the mighty hunter is gone from our early night view until October when fall returns. I love this constellation. It is like having a friend up in the sky that is a better marker of the monthly calendar than the more fickle phenology of snow cover or blooming plants.

And imagine my surprise to discover Orion is also found in the southern hemisphere—as, of course, a marker in the summer sky. There he lies on his side, but he is as well known and distinctive to the Australians as he is to us. Though when we were visiting recently, I was informed the constellation is more commonly known as “the Pot” from the shape of the sword and belt. Constellations are named through our imagination and if we tend to them, they can tell us a lot about the changing seasons.

Blogging on a Friday night

It’s a glorious sunset after a cloudy day. I lower the window blinds and try to settle into my thoughts. One week in April: I paid my taxes, had a birthday, walked the dog, got my hair cut, went to the athletic club, trucked through a hundred business details and uncounted emails … and tracked two young men through the suburbs of Boston in a multi-million dollar manhunt. Middle-class life in America: one life undisturbed, a bunch of lives profoundly disturbed, some changed forever, some lives lost.

I can hardly discern what I think and feel about all this because the media is so busy telling me what I think and feel.

The bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon a terrible tragedy for the people who died and all those who now grieve them. It’s a catastrophe for those who were injured and now face a long recovery and perhaps life on artificial limbs. It’s a trauma for those in the vicinity who witnessed these events, who’ve been through the lock-down of an American metropolitan area, who’ve been witness to shoot-outs and explosions in neighborhoods where such violence does not occur at this scale. It’s a confusion for me because–

I cannot stand to watch young Bostonians flipping me thumbs up on the CNN videos like they are walking out of the parking lot after a football match.  And to know that cheering erupted on the streets, along with superficial analysis that “justice has been done… everything is all right now… it’s safe to return to life as usual…”

I cannot listen to NPR reporters milking the idea of how shocking it is that American suburbs should be disturbed by gunfire—as though this isn’t happening all around the world to people whose lives are just as precious to them as our lives are to us.

In an article in the on-line version of The Guardian, Kim Gamel of Associated Press, reports that on April 6th, a NATO airstrike called into a scene of heavy gunfire, killed 11 children who were in the same house as a suspected Taliban insurgent. Also killed that same day were 3 civilians  whose vehicle was hit by a suicide bomber while they were traveling to deliver books to a school.

Perhaps in light of this week’s news out of Boston we can see these people more clearly and imagine their pain, and the grief of their families and friends more distinctly. Perhaps we can imagine the hopeful grin on the face of one of those Afghani children drawing doves in a time of war. Perhaps we can see behind the burka to the face of a young mother. Or travel the idealism of a young foreign service officer trying to make a gesture of goodwill.

Martin Richard, age 8: killed at the finish line.

Martin Richard, age 8: killed at the finish line.

Let’s have a moment of silence, not dancing in the streets. Then let’s talk more deeply about these issues than we did a week ago.

Nature is Everywhere


Nature is everywhere. My 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter, Sasha Ann, watched her mother carefully remove a bee from the window of their LA apartment using a jar and a piece of paper. Lesson: Bees are good. Don’t hurt them. They belong outdoors.

An hour later Sasha, I, and Grandma Nina (the photographer) were playing in a park when she wandered out of the playground onto a nearby sports field. Suddenly she stooped to point out a bee on some clover. “Good bee,” she said.

When her mother, my daughter Sally, was tiny I carefully removed bugs from the house. Obviously, the lesson took. As parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors, let us never overlook the impact of our actions on our children.