May 23, 2013
Riding the Milky Way in Tucson
Posted on Aug 26, 2010
Yet other delights were in store. Our space odyssey continued and a mix of meditative techno sounds played in the background, and then our very own galaxy came into view—the Milky Way in all its splendor, the glittering and endless expanse that is our home and does not have borders. And this was the thing that kicked Tucson into a new category for me.
You see, the card that I had drawn when I asked my original question was the cow. Cow represents nourishment, healing and protection. And she is associated with the Milky Way, a trail of bounty or mother’s milk, a celestial echo of ancient cattle paths which connected towns and cities. Many times had I seen the Milky Way (or eaten it; I was addicted to the eponymous candy bar in college), but never before in a particular context, as an answer to an urgent question. Perhaps the card explained why so many people head toward the region, in spite of great hardship along the way.
Around midnight it was time for the Perseid showers, and I joined everyone else as we positioned ourselves outside with binoculars and star maps provided by the Sky Center. Each of us was assigned a particular constellation to watch for meteors passing through. Shortly after midnight they began their dance, and I saw one that left a really long trail blast through Cepheus in the northern sky.
As we waited for more starbursts, there came one more piece of significant information. Adam pointed out Sagittarius with his laser. “See the teapot at the center?” he said. “That’s the center of our galaxy.” A teapot is the center of the Milky Way? This was like the Monopoly card “bank makes mistake in your favor” and combined with all of the other news that had come my way, it was all a big score.
Stars too were another connection to immortality. The Shoshone believed that the twinkling illuminations were souls of the dead, and that if you gazed at the Milky Way, you could follow the path that souls traveled, and connect with the ancestors forever. And that’s what I did at the top of Mount Lemmon as I read the star maps, crossing all borders and finding a new home—or at least a place where I could rest easy for a while, until the Joshua trees called me back from the saguaros with their siren Mojave song.
Deanne Stillman’s latest book is the widely acclaimed “Mustang: The Saga of the Wild Horse in the American West,” a Los Angeles Times “Best Book ’08” and winner of the California Book Award silver medal for nonfiction. Her book includes an account of the 1998 Christmas horse massacre outside Reno, as well as the story of Bugz, the lone survivor of the incident. Her work appears in the L.A. Times, Slate, Orion and other publications and is widely anthologized. Her plays, including “Star Maps,” have won prizes in theater festivals around the country. She is currently writing “Mojave Manhunt” for Nation Books, based on her Rolling Stone piece of the same name. Follow Deanne Stillman on Facebook.
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