I spent my summers on my grandfather’s farm, a truly rural place that seemed to be on another planet. There were six street lights down the only paved road in town, one general store and a school house that combined kindergarten through ninth grades in two small rooms with twenty students. There were 130 residents there Grandpa would say; if you counted the sheep and cows.
I worked in his store during the day and made dinner at night while he and my grandmother worked the garden. It seemed to me like a hard life for a twelve year old that had only done a few chores and then played with friends on previous summers but I was away from my parents and siblings on what seemed a grand adventure so I loved every minute of it.
It was dark there at night and the stars were clearly visible in that huge expanse that loomed above the world. After all the work was done Grandpa would show me a new constellation each night in his heavy astronomy book then we headed outside to find it in the sky above us. He would turn on his huge flashlight and point out the designs so I could see them too and I was amazed as each night the sky seemed more familiar to me.
My first constellation was Orion, three stars in a sort of straight line formed his belt, there were others around it that represented the warrior’s arms and legs and weapons. The following nights I learned Canis Major and Canis Minor, his two hunting dogs that stood beside him as the three of them faced off against the rearing bull, Taurus. That monster was clearly recognized by the red star that formed his eye.
There were other constellations depending on the time of season, Scorpio, Draco the Dragon and Andromeda; but Orion was always the starting point; everything new was related to Orion’s position in the sky. It was our signpost, our go to before we struck out to learn any new constellations.
It’s been years and Grandpa has passed, buried below that vast star-filled sky in rural Utah where I’m sure he gazes at the magnificent view of the constellations he loved each night.
I seldom visit that small town anymore but even today, in the big city where only the brightest of stars are visible, I glance up and search for Orion. It’s the landmark that lets me know that the world around me has changed but the heavens remain the same. It acts like an anchor for me, a stepping off place before I explore and the light on the front porch when I’m heading home.
And for that sense of peace I will always thank Grandpa.