Galapagos Diary: End of Day Two - Star-Gazing and Stumbling
There was no moon, so the stars stood out brilliantly, more luminous than I had ever seen them before, even at Upper Pine Lake in northern Minnesota, even at our villa in Jamaica. The first night, a pelican had swum next to the ship off the port side, keeping up with it; tonight, a sea lion was doing the same in the very place where the pelican had swum. Someone told me that two frigate birds had been sitting on the back of the ship that morning, riding along with us.
At the equator, when the sun sets, it seems to drop to the horizon like a bowling ball. The sky was pitch black apart from the stars. It took me some time to recognize the constellations, for I'm not as familiar with the Southern Cross or the constellations of the zodiac. The Big Dipper was upside-down at this hour and Polaris was nowhere to be seen, of course. I could not locate Cassiopeia or many of my favorites, but the Milky Way was spectacular, truly a sight to behold.
However, I do not have my sea legs at this point. (In fact, I never quite gained them.) Being that we are on an open deck in the dark on a swaying ship I felt quite uncertain of myself, and many spots along the railing were taken. To cover my fear and clumsiness I made jokes with Sue and Erik about needing to hang on to someone, and suddenly Richard, who is sitting in a lounge chair, grasps me by my backpack and asks if I'm all right.
Me: "Oh yes, I'm fine. Thank you."
Internal me, unspoken: "Of course I'm not all right! OMG, the ship is swaying like an incense censer! What the hell? I'm going to fall and humiliate myself in front of everyone like the miserable landlubber I am (scared of water and all that), and maybe break my leg, that is if I don't tumble right off this deck and into the water where I'll drown. It's dark. Oh crap, why are the stars spinning? [The ship was turning in a circle at this point to give everyone all views of the sky.] You know, I think that if I were a captain and I tried to use an astrolabe right now, I'd put out my eye! No wonder pirates wore patches!" Holy Toledo. I've tripped on sidewalks while walking with my face craned to the stars before, but this is ridiculous. Get a hold of yourself.
Sue: "Here Kristine, some of the railing has been freed up."
Me: "Oh! Great. Thanks, Sue." Fighting down my embarrassment, I grab on and point to a star. "Is that Antares?"
Marcela: "No, that's Alpha Centauri."
Me: "No, wait." [Ship sways back to previous position while I hold my arm out straight.] "Okay, that star."
Marcela: "Yes, Antares, very good!"
Me: "Alpha Centauri is the closest star to ours, right?"
Me: "Bootes is upside-down."
Diego: "You know your stars."
Hey-hey! I'm back on solid (well, not really) ground, sounding intelligent, and not making a landlubber never-before-snorkeled fool of myself. Yet.
[Edit: Robert has correctly informed me that Proxima Centauri is the closest star to us. However, it's within the Alpha Centauri group, and I think I may have said "one of the closest stars" or something like that. Anyway, good catch, Robert.]
Later, I manage to gingerly make it across the deck and back several times without clinging to anyone or anything. In Crux, we see the Coal Sack nebula. It looks much darker than the sky around it where there are no stars, and Richard asks why this is. Diego and Marcela, two of our naturalists, don't have an answer. I speculate that the places in the sky where we don't see stars actually do have some imperceptible to the naked eye, and so must contain some risidual light from the stars that are nevertheless there, and that is why the nebula appears darker (although you'll see from the link that you can see stars through the nebula. Well, we couldn't. If anyone has an answer to this, feel free to give it).
I see three falling stars. Veronica, another of the naturalists, tells me to make a wish. The first wish that I make is to see a supernova - our galaxy is due for one - in the sky during our trip. I save the other two wishes for later.
After we leave the sun deck, I settle in the salon with my glass of wine and my book on the Galapagos, and a few people ask me about my first experience snorkeling. Some people have already turned in, but my jaccuzi partners start a game of Scrabble, while a few others join Richard in the ship's library, where he is tap-tapping on his Mac, and glance at the books or check their e-mail on those interminably slow satellite connections. The group in the salon and in the library dwindles finally, and soon I look up from the diagram of the tectonic plates in the Pacific in which I was absorbed. It has been a perfect day and evening, but now the salon is almost deserted.
I drain my glass of wine and carry it up to the bar. It's only a few steps, but just then the ship sways again - one of those long, slow motions that feels like we're all sliding downhill - and I pause, having placed my glass safely onto the wood of the bar, and brace myself for the arrest of the movement and the pendulum swing back. The bartender, Luis, leans forward with a smile as I struggle not to stumble. "Another glass of wine, Miss?"
"Heh. No, I'm good. Thank you very much."
Labels: Galapagos Diary