At the Adler Planetarium, there is a star show that is pretty good. You sit back and they show you the constellations up close and personal.
As a kid I loved this show and every Catholic school I went to without fail, took one day a year to take us down there for this show. We’d actually split the day between there and the Field Museum, which I loved, especially the stuffed birds and mammoths, as well as the Pacific Northwest Indian artifacts they had in abundance. I remember one medicine bag affixed to the head of a hawk that seemed a repository of magic of some kind.
When I was a kid there was a man down the street who had a telescope. Here and there he’d let the little neighborhood gangsters look through it at night and point out the constellations to us–Ursa Major and Minor, the North Star. He’d explain to us that men learned navigation from the stars. He was a cool guy who worked for the airlines and astronomy was his hobby. Once in a while he’d scare the shit out of us with stories about how a supernova could occur and barbecue our asses in seconds, as well as anecdotes about meteors and comets the size of our planet smashing into us and putting the lights out for good. This guy was a lot of laughs.
He would eventually reassure us that this was very unlikely, but drove home the point at every opportunity to let us know that in the bigger schematic of the universe, we were all nothing but popcorn farts.
The stars make us feel small; they humble us. As Laurie Anderson once said, “We love the Stars, because we can’t hurt them, but we’re trying.”
Everytime I am way out in the sticks, I’m amazed at just how active the night sky is; really. . .it knocks me out. It is said that Crazy Horse used to talk back to the stars. It might sound nuts, but I understand it. In Missoula, years ago, I was fortunate enough to witness a meteor shower and it seemed miraculous to me, like the Northern lights.
It’s hard to see stars in the city with all of the ambient light and buildings around, but I think I may finally invest in a telescope and see what I can see.
The one good thing about winter in Chicago is that it is easier to see the stars. The trees are lefless and there is less traffic at night and the sky becomes more visible. It is still better to go out 40 or 50 miles, but at least you can see the more identifiable constellations, Big Dipper. . Little Dipper. . .the easy ones.
As a teenager, my friends and I used to love to go to the drive-in in the winter. There was one in Addison at Route 53 and North Avenue that used to show the goriest horror double features in the dead of winter and it was as spooky as hell. My friends and I saw The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Deranged and Tales from the Crypt while sucking down Mickey’s Big-Mouths on Saturday nights. Fuck, it could be 10 below; we didn’t give a shit; as long as we had enough beer we would sit there and watch gorefest after gorefest laughing our asses off. Always this time of year I think about that and all of the time I pissed away as a kid.
Lately , I listen to Chopin nocturnes this time of year. His night music, to me, seems perpetually wintry and mournful with twinkling stars, sonorous digressions, sketches in sound that remind one of ecstacies and the ending of all things.