02.23.16 The skies have been spectacular. The full Snow Moon comes up over our garage on the hill around bedtime, and, and in the hour before setting, it makes a wide swath of dancing light on the lake, glowing in the pink light of sunrise over the western mountains. I love opening my eyes in the middle of the night to look at moonshine coming in the bedroom windows, and through shutter slats, it makes stripes on the bed. I keep sliding down on my pillows, as it moves down the window, watching Jupiter get closer and closer to his fellow celestial body.
I heard on NPR yesterday, that the U.S. Navy has reinstituted Celestial Navigation into their course curriculum for Midshipmen. After so many years of relying on computers and GPS technology, they’ve decided that the risk of hacking and cyberwar is so great, it’s necessary to return to the knowledge of the ancients, as a back-up. Odysseus sailed the seas by knowing the relationship between the sun, moon and stars. Columbus reached America, and Lawrence of Arabia found his way across the deserts of the Middle East.
It feels like such an important interaction with nature, one of many we’ve lost with the convenience of our computers and devices. It pleases me to think that brass sextants are still being produced and navigators are making calculations with lovely maps, spread across a table, looking at celestial bodies strewn across the universe. In googling the definition of “celestial navigation” it’s as beautiful and simple as this:
“The action of finding one’s way by observing the sun, moon and stars.”
Joshua Slocum, the first person to sail around the world alone, in the late 1800’s, said it with great poetry:
“I sailed with a free wind day after day, marking the position of my ship on the chart with considerable precision; but this was done by intuition, I think, more than by slavish calculations. For one whole month my vessel held her course true; I had not, the while, so much as a light in the binnacle. The Southern Cross I saw every night abeam; the sun every morning came up astern; every evening it went down ahead. I wished for no other compass to guide me, for these were true. If I doubted my reckoning after a long time at sea I verified it by reading the clock aloft made by the Great Architect, and it was right.”