Michael Ellis: Scorpius

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In times of trouble some look to the stars for comfort. That’s what Michael Ellis has done since he was a young man.

I was 21 years old when my father died of lung cancer. I didn’t have a lot of emotional tools at my disposal. I was lost and adrift. But I did manage to look heavenward. I decided to spend that sultry southern month of August in 1972 to learn all the star names and constellations. I got myself a book called “The Friendly Stars” and bought a beat-up old rocking chair and got busy.

And I did indeed make lifelong friends with these more or less immutable and predictable (at least from this human’s perspective) points of light. Now, everywhere I travel I find stars and star patterns I recognize. Ah! There’s an old friend- bright Vega, barely visible above the northern horizon in Uganda. Those stars ground me, I am of the Earth, the spinning orb, stars wheeling overhead, year after year after year. And here at home at 38 degrees north latitude, that pole star is a constant. I know exactly where to find it.

Many folks know a few star groups the Big Dipper, Orion, the Pleiades. My favorite is Scorpius the scorpion. It’s one of the few constellations that actually looks like what it is and easy to see now in the southern sky. In its center is a bright star, a red giant, Antares. Antares literally means the rival of Mars. What a perfect name for a star that shares a similar brightness and color with the fierce God of War. The beautiful S curve of the tail of the scorpion ends in two bright stars called the stingers in Arabic.

We humans have a tendency to look for order in chaos, to find meaning and maybe purpose in the random points of light in the night sky. That is what I was trying to do years ago. I am now 10 years older than my father when he died. I will die and those friendly stars will keep on keeping on without me. And somehow, somehow that is comforting.


This is Michael Ellis with a Perspective.

Michael Ellis is a naturalist who lives in Santa Rosa.