Staying warm in the winter is hard. Chickadees eat constantly in order to survive long, cold winter nights. Squirrels spend precious time and energy creating complex insulated nests. Deer browse on nutrient-poor twigs to get as many calories out of their surroundings as possible. Yet compared to fish and other aquatic organisms, terrestrial wildlife breathe easy – literally. As fish battle the cold through the long winter, they are steadily running out of oxygen.
We all have our routines, those mental checklists we complete to make sure that our day will run smoothly. Some are entirely rational, others seem almost ridiculous, but all are part of what makes our own worlds go around. One of my self-affirming habits each winter evening is to look for Orion, to make sure that his giant frame is poised for battle in the night sky as he has been since the ancient Greeks raised his mortal body into the heavens almost 3,000 years ago.
Orion’s nighttime traverses actually began long before the Homer immortalized his character in The Iliad. The configuration of the constellation has been visible from Earth for about 1.5 million years and should stay recognizable for about 1 to 2 million more years. Ultimately, the stars will rotate within our galaxy and change their relative positions to each other, as well as to Earth. In the current wintertime sky, Orion routinely rises in the south to southeast at sunset, big and broad, early enough to entertain those of us who aren’t night owls. Betelgeuse, the supergiant that is his right shoulder, is by far the reddest object on the dark horizon and holds the allure that it may explode at any moment, collapsing under its own weight and rebounding into fiery supernova glow. The odds that this impressive event will occur tonight are “astronomically small,” but it is always worth another look.
My third-floor office is a commanding venue for a nap. Reclined in a worn swivel chair with my unsheathed feet stacked on the heat grates, I slip into my best unproductive hours. When my eyes deign to open, the scenery is ripe for a Chamber of Commerce brochure. The golden chapel domes and brown brick mortar of the university sit regal and prim before the white speckled ribs of New York and the glass pool of Champlain. It’s plain lovely. Especially on biting cold mornings, near 10:00, when some change of guard ushers students out from every academic pore to wade the gray salty paths to their next nook. It’s one vain pleasure up in my aerie, watching without sympathy the cold scholars scurry. Continue reading