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Amused Muse

Inspiring dissent and debate and the love of dissonance

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Galapagos Diary: End of Day Two - Star-Gazing and Stumbling

That evening after dinner we were all invited up to the sun deck to view the stars with the naturalists.

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?"
Richard: "Yes."
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."



Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so way jealous.

And if it were me, I'd have "fallen" into Richard's lap.



June 13, 2007 11:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, maybe I'm mistaken (I'm going to Google it in a moment) but isn't Proxima Centauri the closest star to us?

June 13, 2007 11:49 AM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Oh dang, you're right, Robert. I wrote this post late last night. Yeah, that's good excuse. But it's part of the Alpha Centauri system and I'm sure that it was Alpha Centauri that we saw. I could be mistaken, too. (I wasn't writing in my little notebook on that dark deck.) ;-)

JanieBelle, sh! SHHH! For all I know he could be reading this, and who knows who else. You’re going to get me into trouble. ;-) I don’t want anyone to get mad at me, especially not him!

(But don’t you think that if I were single and he were single, I would have had any hesitation? I mean, JanieBelle, my Gawd! What do you think I’m made of? Stone?)

The man treated me like a perfect lady, as did everyone. I mean, wow, I was so floored that he even cared what I had to say about anything – or that anyone, like the other people on the ship or the naturalists, did. Considering the kind of day that I had at work yesterday (don’t get me started, but I’ve decided to do something the dramas and the criticism), I can say that I have these memories of the islands and the camaraderie that we all had.

Actually, now I miss feeling the motion of that ship.

June 13, 2007 12:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Proxima Centauri is the nearest star other than Sol, but Alpha Centauri is the nearest stellar object in the night sky that we can see with the unaided eye. Proxima is a red dwarf, a real dimbulb.

June 14, 2007 10:45 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Thank you Scotius!

I remember now that Diego showed us Proxima Centauri on the laptop that was sitting on the bar.

The stars looked like flashlights, they were so big and clear.

I miss the equatorial stars!

I miss my beautiful ship!

I miss the ocean waves and my trying not to knock my hips against tables as I walked in the salon!

I miss the jaccuzi! I miss the weird sounds from the Boobies! There are no sea lions flopping across my sidewalk. There are no frigate birds sitting on my patio table - just a squirrel or two.

I want to go back!!!!!!!

June 15, 2007 9:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Coal Sack" is made up of dust that obscures the glow of the milky way behind it, hence why it appears darker. The stars visible are pretty dim, so you couldn't see them without a telescope.

June 15, 2007 6:09 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I miss my beautiful ship.

I find it rather amusing that you, an avowed atheist, were sailing on a ship named "Santa Cruz."

June 15, 2007 8:00 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Thank you, Nerull; I thought as much.

I find it rather amusing that you, an avowed atheist, were sailing on a ship named "Santa Cruz."

To an island named Santa Cruz, no less! ;-)

Actually, you'd be surprised if you saw my house. We have lots of religious paraphernalia - saints candles, pictures of Mary, Buddhist flags and sayings by the Dalai Lama, a kachina doll, etc. I'm more of an Andre Breton than a Leon Trotsky - I love the cultural and sensual aspects of religion, but not church or theology. Costume and pageantry strike me as animal behavior, like the peacock's tail or the blue-footed Booby dance. :-)

June 16, 2007 2:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a comment... the Coal Sack is not in Cygnus, it's in Crux, the southern cross (Cygnus is the northern cross). There is a dark lane in Cygnus, too, though! Dark nebulae are thick with dust, and block the light from stars behind them, which is why they look like dark holes in the sky.

I'm cruising to the Galapagos next year. I can't wait! Your description makes me want to go even more.

June 22, 2007 10:05 PM  
Blogger Kristine said...

Thanks, Phil. I corrected it. I'm pretty sure they told us Cygnus, though.

You're going there next year - lucky you! I'm sad that the trip is over for me. I would have liked to spend more time there.

June 23, 2007 12:37 AM  
Blogger Trip Advisor said...

i hope to go there too one day

October 18, 2010 11:58 AM  
Anonymous said...

I do not wish to go there one day.

October 08, 2012 1:47 PM  

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