Mountain Views News, Combined Edition Saturday, November 30, 2019

MVNews this week:  Page 5


Mountain Views-News Saturday, November 30, 2019 

Photo credit: John Dlugolecki.

Dale Sandlin (l.), Philip Rossi, Garrett Botts

Grower of Rare Camellias and Azaleas since 
19353555 Chaney Trail, AltadenaHours: 8am-4:30pm(Closed Wed & Th)
(626) 794-3383Fax (626) 794-3395

By Bob Eklund

 This book invites the scientist and poet to set aside their differences 
for a night—to come outside, stand very still as the sun sets, feel the 
earth turning eastward, be dazzled by a moonrise, catch a falling star, 
walk with constellations, ride a rocket to Jupiter space, and finally 
look back at the Home Planet with new eyes. In poetry, prose, and 
picture, author/poet Robert Eklund and illustrator Virginia Hoge 
have created a unique mix of astronomy and art that asks you to 
join them in the billion-year mission of “descrambling the wonder, 
outside and inside.”


The evening burns,
The dark earth turns,
The mountains loom against the sky;

One star looks down
To bless the town,
While sunset clouds sail grandly by.

And if the light
Of noon’s delight
Moves on, and leaves us where we are,

The darkest night
But aids our sight—
The better to reveal the star.

Excerpt: Introduction

 One starry night many years ago, while driving alone up the wild 
and rocky Big Sur coast of California, I pulled over and stopped 
mycar for a break. Stepping out into the starlight, I walked a few feet 
to the edge of the cliff and looked down. From somewhere farbelow 
came a growl of surf. As my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, I 
looked with awe at the brilliant Milky Way stretching overhead and 
down the sky to the southwest, out over the sea. Then I did a double-
take—and thought I was going to fall off the cliff.

 What I thought I was seeing was the Milky Way continuing down, 
down, below what must have been the horizon and deep into the 
sea itself. The dizzying impression was that I was standing on a 
flat earth and seeing stars beyond and below its edge. What I was 
really seeing was the Milky Way reflected on the ocean hundreds 
of feet below me—but I was not immediately aware of that, and so 
startling was the impression on my senses that I panicked. Feeling 
lost, disoriented and frightened under that vast sky, I turned and 
ran for my car! I only felt safe again when I had the engine running, 
lights on, and the car in motion.

 As other recollections of that trip faded, that single moment of 
bedazzled stellar awe and panic remained with me as one of my 
most cherished memories. Later, when I began to read Japanese 
haiku poetry, I realized that my Big Sur night was exactly the kind of 
experience that the best haiku poems are able to record and transmit 
to others. The great haiku-master Matsuo Basho perhaps summed 
it up best. His own experience on the cold, lonely coast of northern 
Japan, on a dark night in the 1600s, must have been much like mine.
He wrote:

 How wild the sea! 
And, stretching over Sado’s isle, 
The Galaxy!

The poignant sense of space, of loneliness, felt in Basho’s encounter 
with the night sky becomes all the more intense when you know 
that, in his time, Sado’s isle was a penal colony.

A poem can intensify, compress, and store our experiences and 
emotions, just as a painting intensifies and preserves an artist’s 
vision—or as a capacitor stores and holds an electric charge. This 
is a book of experiences under the sky, most often the sky of night. 
In recording such moments, I frequently have used the compact, 
17-syllable haiku form of poetry, borrowed from the Japanese. This 
form seems especially suited to encapsulate and preserve meaningful 
encounters with nature, to “call forth in 17 syllables the limitless 
nuances of earth and sky,” as the classic haiku poet Masaoka Shiki 
put it.

 When I was a child, it was my good fortune to grow up on the 
grounds of Yerkes Observatory, a major astronomical observatory 
in southern Wisconsin, where my grandfather was employed for 
many years as a photographer and lecturer. No doubt the seeds for 
these poems were sown in those early years when, as a six-year-old, 
I would sometimes be roused out of sleep by my mother at midnight 
to go outside and watch a display of the aurora borealis or a shower 
of meteors. Over the years, while pursuing other careers, I have 
learned a few things about astronomy, but always as an amateur—
in the original meaning of that word: a lover. The naturalist John 
Burroughs said it so well: “To know is not all, it is only half. To love 
is the other half.”

 A word about the organization of this book may be useful. I 
have endeavored to so blend science and art that readers may gain 
unexpected insights in the twin realms of the mind and the heart. 
The book is structured as an encounter with a starry night—from 
nightfall through moonlight and starlight and on to bedtime—with 
excursions, along the way, into both outer and inner space.

You may find it helpful to refer to the “Endnotes” section (starting on 
page 205) while reading this book. The comments there, keyed to the 
book’s page numbers, add perspective to the main text and provide 
resources for further learning.

Basho wrote: “Before the light that things give off dies in the heart, 
it must be expressed.” My hope is that this book may inspire readers 
to go out, observe the “limitless nuances of earth and sky,” and 
then express, in their own words, “the light that things give off.” 
I write for all who love the starry sky, the setting sun, the full moon 
rising, and even the stormy night full of raindrops and snowflakes. 
The beauty of these things is never far from us.

— Robert L. Eklund

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