Ray McGrath’s new column as he adjusts to a life in isolation
LAST night I took a ‘timeout’ from Netflix and broke out of the cocoon – this time the mental one, which can be the most confining – and went back to Vega. I first got to know her deep in the Trade Winds of mid-Atlantic some years ago when in a cocoon of a different kind, a 35 foot sloop with a closet-sized space below decks that our small crew of six shared for 79 days. But that boat, my companions and the voyage is another story for another time.
So I left the English Game and the inspiring story of Fergus Sutor, who changed Association Football for ever, and went up to the top of the garden where it merges into the Hill Fields and where the sky opens up in a broad and clear sweep from Dunbrody Abbey in the east to the loom of the city’s night lights in the west. Here the sky is big, almost as big as it is above the northern prairies of Alberta where once I found a different star. But last night it was Vega that drew me to the natural observatory of my garden.
Vega comes to us in these late-April evenings in the eastern sky and as she rises her sapphire blueness becomes whiter and more brilliant, making her the fifth brightest in the spring sky. She is at one side of the Milky Way, the Great Celestial River, which separates her from Altair, once her earthly lover, according to a Chinese story.
Vega (Jiu Nu) a celestial creature. on the seventh night of the seventh moon, fell in love with Altair (Niu Nang). Their families forbade them from meeting. Their trysting place was usually on the bridge separating the two dynasties. But they continued to meet knowing the risks involved. As punishment they were banished to the sky, to either side of the Milky Way where they could see each other but never touch, never hold the hand of their lover. In time the Gods relented and allowed them to meet once a year on a bridge over the Heavenly River, the Milky Way. To make the bridge the gods summoned the doves of the world to form the arch. Tears of joy flowed at their meeting turning to torrents of sadness at their parting. In Chinese mythology their tears continue to water the land at the onset of the annual monsoon… it also explains why, according to some authorities, Chinese doves are bald. And check out your dresser where there might still be a piece of delph with the Chinese Willow Pattern story and look for the bridge where the lovers met in another version of the story.
So later this week on a fine night join me wherever you are near Latitude 51 North, from garden or backdoor, and let’s do some stargazing towards the northeastern sky (get a compass app for your phone) and find Vega and Altair on opposite sides of the Milky Way. About 9.30pm when sufficiently dark would be good – the darker the night the better.
And in this long night of our cocooning let Martin Luther King’s advice come to mind – ‘But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars’. … And thank you, Sr Ann, for sending me this quote.
From Cheekpoint, Waterford, Ray McGrath contributes regular columns to the Waterford News & Star, including his most recent series Gaultier Heritage Rambles.