Geek and sundry on the island of Guam
It’s 4:00 in the morning. “Four in the freaking morning,” I whisper to the puppy I am trying to encourage to urinate so I can go back inside and lay on the couch pretending to sleep while she growls and plays and worries at her chew toys. I sit on the back porch and try to savor the cool air. There are advantages to waking up before the sun on this island and the hint of a crisp breeze is one of them. The other one is a chance to see an old friend.
According to the University of Guam Planetarium sky guide “If you look below Venus and Jupiter closer to the horizon, you’ll see an old familiar friend. Orion the Hunter has entered our early morning sky and that bright star three fist-widths to the left of Jupiter and Venus and slightly below Venus is Capella, the 6th brightest star.”
“Old and familiar friend” certainly describes Orion for me. Orion is my favorite constellation. Ever since high school astronomy and 5:00 am swim team practices he has been my touchstone in the sky. The arrival of his three star belt and slanted shoulders in the early mornings here on Guam brings back memories of running across icy concrete pool decks; clouds of steam rising off the surface of heated water. Doing a lazy back stroke to cool down from a hard workout; savoring the feel of the warm water beneath me contrasted with the crisp, cool air of fall in the sky above me. All the while Orion looking down from his space-crafted throne.
The constellation contains stars with names like Betelgeuse, Rigel, Bellatrix, Saiph, and more. Names that have always started my brain wandering down story paths, wondering what kind of strange inhabitants might occupy places with monikers that roll so oddly on the tongue. Much as I love sunlight, seeing as how it’s essential to life as we know it and all, the Sun is outdone in the naming department by these distant beauties.
Here on Guam the ancestors of the Chamarro people also appreciated the beauty and reliability of the stars, so much so that they based their calendars off of the stars rather than the moon. Deep in caves located in the limestone cliffs of Ritidian pictographs on cave walls illustrate many constellations. Orion is among them. 1 What kind of stories did they tell about this early morning wanderer? Was he a hunter as in Greek myths or an explorer or something else altogether? How many others are looking at him right now, how many have contemplated him before? Waking up at 4:00 am to take the puppy outside seems more gift than burden when I can look up and see into history – this island’s and my own.