Looking out over the ocean in the small hours

Saturn and Mars are in Sagittarius, above the centaur’s bow targeting its arrow at the scorpion’s heart. The ocean lies below: follow it in a straight line beyond Scorpio and there’d be no disturbance before Antarctica.

The stars sit in their own perfect harmony, and long ago we imposed our own small skirmishes. Another centaur (there are two centaurs in the sky, Sagittarius and Centaurus – blame the Greeks and the Sumerians, each with their own stories), low and to the right of the scorpion’s whiplash, prepares to kill, aiming a spear at the heart of the wolf (the constellation Lupus).

Adjacent to the scorpion’s head lies Jupiter. Extending down behind them runs the Milky Way. Above lie the eagle, lyre and swan. They rest easy in the skies, as if disdainful of the violence.

The proximity of Jupiter, Mars and Saturn to each other tonight is a happy accident.

All the while, on the low rugged cliffs below, the shearwaters call, groan and wail into the night, I’m told it’s a mating call, an unreal sound, owing out of the silence. There seems to be no special time of night for the shearwater. They open up when they will, only quieten as dawn approaches.

Last night there was a small church service, maybe eight people singing hymns to tunes on a soft harmonium which had a quiet almost valedictory quality. The average age of the audience would be late seventies, and the lady leading the service of similar antiquity. I thought maybe unkindly that it wouldn’t be too long before they were joining the silence of ocean and sky.

As I write the Turks are strengthening their hold on Afrin, and under semi-desert skies the stars I’m watching now circle as they have done on timescales unimaginable to human conflict. I chanced last night (ask not why) on descriptions of the burying alive of whole armies by the victors in the period of the Warring States which ended in the victory of the Qin dynasty. We’re talking of China, over two thousand years ago.

The Chinese poet LiPo caught the same mood:

The bright moon lifts from the Mountain of Heaven/In an infinite haze of cloud and sea,/And the wind, that has come a thousand miles,/Beats at the Jade Pass battlements…./China marches its men down Baideng Road/While Tartar troops peer across blue waters of the bay….

A point of difference: no moon tonight. And no Tartar hordes.

A satellite on a circumpolar orbit moves slowly overhead, flashing maybe every five seconds, the brightest object in the sky. I assume it’s rotating slowly, with a mirror side that picks up the sun’s rays.

Other nights there have been small single-manned fishing boats out on the night ocean, revealing themselves every so often by a bright light, soon extinguished.

The stars circle on a time scale imaginable to modern man, and millennia ago we placed our own small-scale conflicts in the sky, bearing arrows and spears, taking on the scorpion , keeping it well away from the heels it could sting. Modern conflict is brutal and earthbound, and has no place other than the hard earth, and the dust of the debris.

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