Thursday, May 01, 2003

The Southern Blog.

May Day Update. A large thunderstorm rolled through metro Chicago last night, lasting well into the wee hours, drenching everything. The grass looked happy this morning.

Ann, now three months old, is alert and active. She flails with vigor, both arms and legs when she’s so inclined. This is pre-sitting up, pre-rolling over activity. Her colic is diminishing, but it still occurs — such as last night, during the storm.

Lilly, at five years and five months, has sprouted her first permanent tooth, a bottom incisor. She’s early in this, but she's also taller and weighs more than most of her peers.

Back to more recollections of times and places past. On New Year’s Day 1992, I was in Perth, and the next day I went south from there with a friend of mine, Simon, to poke around the wine-producing areas around the Margaret River, and to visit Cape Leeuwin. That prominence is considered as far southwest as you can go on the continent of Australia. There’s a lighthouse there, and a brown sign that informs passersby that to the right of the sign is the Indian Ocean, and to the left of the sign is the Southern Ocean, which is what the Australians call that yawning patch of water between them and Antarctica.

It was a pleasant early summer day — the temps in Western Australia hadn’t yet pushed toward 100° (that is, 35°+) as they would a few days later, but the sun was high and the wind warm. The view from Cape Leeuwin was an expanse of deep-blue ocean, and I looked to the horizon thinking that the next landmass in that direction would, indeed, be Antarctica. You feel like you’re at the end of the Earth there, because you are.

That night we stayed at a vacation cottage (or was a holiday bungalow?) owned by Simon’s parents. It was south of Perth quite a ways, and so the night was terrifically dark. I saw a new panoply of stars — southern stars. I spent a long time watching then. Simon, who was always eager to boast about Australia, assured me that this was the darkest place on Earth that wasn’t on the ocean or in Antarctica.

Maybe. But it was dark enough. The Milky Way was visible, of course, but better yet were the two fuzzy balls called the Magellanic Clouds — they look like pieces of the Milky Way that somehow drifted away, and they’re only visible from southern latitudes. They’re actually dwarf companion galaxies to the Milky Way, and up until that time for me had only been intriguing spots on sky charts. Orion, a “winter” constellation, was up — but standing on his head. Strange to see something so familiar, and so seemingly fixed, looking so different.

Later in the evening, other natives of the southern skies, Alpha and Beta Centauri, showed themselves as bright stars in that sky among stars in the impressive constellation Centaur. Nearby, the Southern Cross made an appearance too. But we were old friends by then. Early on the morning of December 28, while I was still staying with different friends on the coast of the Tasman Sea southeast of Canberra, I woke at about 3 a.m. and decided to go outside and look for it, since I hadn’t been able to see in the early evening sky. I wasn’t disappointed. Though that part of the country isn’t particularly dark, the Southern Cross formed an elegant little pattern nonetheless. It wasn’t the only thing I’d come so far to see, but it was one of them.


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