Thursday, June 5, 2008

All About The Stars

The Sunday Scribblings prompt is "my nights."

NASA picture of Saturn, 2004

For much of my childhood I dreamed of being an astronomer. For a brief time my father owned an excellent telescope which, on clear nights, we would set up on the front sidewalk where we took turns enjoying it. Seen through the telescope, the sky would erupt with new crops of stars, I was sure that I could see the canals on Mars (as drawn by the Lowell Observatory at Flagstaff in 1894) , and Saturn was thrillingly beautiful within its rings.

The poem below concerns the night my ambition to be an astronomer took root. This is the second Sunday Scribblings in a row that I have written of the boardwalk at Santa Cruz.

I know what my writing group will say about it: "A child of five wouldn't have
thoughts like that. You must have been older than five." I know the exact date, however - August 15, 1926 - because my mother was in the hospital giving birth to my brother Allen, and the Ferris wheel ride was a special treat to keep me from feeling abandoned. My father was a born teacher. I had already been introduced to the world globe. I already knew that the universe was vast.

All About The Stars

I am five years old and I am flying.
Not a dream this time.

The swaying double seat of the Ferris wheel
that holds me safe by Daddy's side
swoops up into the night sky, poises for an instant,
dives down again toward boardwalk lights and noise
and smells of grilled franks and frying grease.
Up again and when we reach the very topmost point
the wheel comes to a sudden halt, swinging in the dark,
while we peer down at oblivious pleasure seekers.

In front of us the ocean heaves its charcoal-colored skin,
spreads a scalloped lace of foam at sand's edge
just within the reach of boardwalk lights.
There is a deep insistent roar and a hiss as breakers crash.
From our height they almost drown
the sound of merry-go-round,
its cheerful bouncing beat turned tinny and sad
against the sea's immensity,
that restless darkness stretching to world's edge.

I picture Daddy and me,
all of us here on the boardwalk,
the small town of Santa Cruz itself
lost on the great curve of earth,
as insignificant as a pinprick on the thick hide of an elephant.

Then I look up and see the stars.
Even the sea, even the earth itself
shrinks to a tiny dot.

"Daddy," I say, "when I grow up
I want to learn all about the stars."

And did I grow up to be an astronomer? No. Too many ambitions and interests intervened. Otto and I together took a university course in astronomy a few years ago, and astronomy articles are the first ones I read in Science or Scientific American. What I still do is to look at the night sky with awe and a sense of how small we are in the total scheme of things.


29 comments:

texasblu said...

Beautiful post Granny. I believe you were five - I have memories like that and younger. We're just good remember-ers. ;)

Greyscale Territory said...

As soon as I finished reading this, I sighed.

I used to have amazing ambitions when I was young. I wanted to be a writer in another country, writing for a king or queen. (Don't ask! I have no idea why!) But I ended up a teacher and still dreaming of being a writer - anywhere for a holiday but with Tasmania as a home base.

Gemma

anthonynorth said...

That's an excellent poem. There is nothing more beautiful and peaceful than going outside on a clear night, lying down on the grass, and losing yourself in the universe.

latree said...

at least you still learn about astronomy.
beautiful poem...

keith hillman said...

What a lovely poem. It was clear from an early age that you would be a writer even if the astonomy ambition was not to become true.

Bethany said...

I love that your five-year-old dreams have followed you long enough for you to take a recent astronomy course! And the poem is absolutely beautiful.

Maggie May said...

That is really lovely!
I can remember being asked to draw what I wanted to be, at school when I was 5. I couldn't think of anything & the friend sitting next to me drew a lady who she said was a washer woman. So I drew the same! Some ambition & since my family came home to live, that is exactly what I am!. A washerwoman!

Pam said...

What a great memory poem. I wanted to be an astronaut for years and I, too, am still fascinated by science and the universe. Have you read any of Brian Greene's books about string theory?

GreenishLady said...

How wonderful, Grannny, that you can recapture the memory so clearly. I beleive it's possible to have a 5-year-old (especially a clever one) grasp the idea of the immensity of space if someone takes the time to talk to them about it, so I don't doubt it at all. I loved reading this.

danni said...

very nice post, granny - i love that you can weave the enormity of the universe and the insignificance of ourselves so adeptly and so lyrically based on such an early memory

Lucy said...

love this story Gran, from your beautiful description, I can really see you... inquistive and precious on your ferris wheel, staring at the sky. How lovely a memory!

me ann my camera said...

This is a wonderful post and I can just imagine the feeling of stopping on the top of the ferris wheel. I can feel it jiggle a little as it temporarily settles and the night breeze is both soft and damp in the night air from the ocean. I have early memories too. this was a lovely read.

Linda Jacobs said...

Love the elephant simile! I like the roundness of the ferris wheel against the globe. Lots going on in here!

Tammie Lee said...

wonderful to have so many dreams, such an amazing world with so much to do! Fun to picture you on the carnival ride with your daddy, dreaming of the stars. You paint the picture with words so well! I love: In front of us the ocean heaves its charcoal-colored skin,
spreads a scalloped lace of foam at sand's edge!

Jon said...

I remember those nights of childhood dreams and ambitions. A pity that children today seem to grow up so quickly.
Lovely post.

alister said...

So sweet, solid, so vivid! And be still my heart, “In front of us the ocean heaves its charcoal-colored skin…” Granny S, you can really pull out the stops!
missalister

Devil Mood said...

It doesn't matter if they come true or not, but having dreams in our childhood is essential!
And I also think that everyone should look at the stars now and then and realize that, like you said, things are so small, we are so small. :)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Whoa. I have a five-year-old (for a few more months). I can believe this.

It's so vividly written, it pulls me into that Ferris wheel with you. Maybe it's because I can relate; I'd wanted to do more with astronomy, too, but never really did.

DJPare said...

Wonderful! And so great that your memory is so vivid!

Tammy said...

I knoww that view and ride well Granny. You were a wise soul at five.

gautami tripathy said...

Granny, my maternal grandma is 92 and has a great memory. You are so amzing. You always remind of her. She lives a long way from us.

nocturnal

Robin said...

What beautiful memories. Five is certainly old enough to both grasp the concept of the future and adulthood and to remember it later. Why shouldn't you remember a pivotal night like that?

Beautiful Witch said...

What a beautiful poem, and a lovely memory. I too am fascinated by the stars. I own a telescope, but it is a difficult thing to use and I lost interest in it some years ago. However your post has me thinking about taking it out and dusting it off again... :)

CHEFDRUCK said...

As long as you can describe it so beautifully, it doesn't matter how old you were exactly...

Patois said...

Knowing how well you write now, I can easily believe you wrote this at 5, a poem I could never hope to write.

anno said...

I love the awe, curiosity, and belief in mystery that these memories and your poem show. A beautiful post, just beautiful!

OneMoreBeliever said...

a most beautiful night of nights...

Jane Doe said...

Wow, I am in awe. That poem is absolutely delightful. It is full of such vivid imagery and wonder. Thanks for sharing!

Have a great day!

Jane

dave.dilloughery said...

Beautiful words Granny, so vivid and so descriptive. Amazing to have come from a 5 year old mind but then an inquisitive mind is laid down at conception more so than university.
I constantly look at the Irish night sky and lose myself in its magic and mystery. Your poem brings back beautiful memories of my holiday in Santa Cruz in 2001 to visit my relatives. Lovely.