Pondering the Night Skies of Lake County and Beyond

In between storm clouds, we enjoy night views of the inconceivable vastness of space here in Lake County, thanks, in part, to our own Friends of Taylor Observatory and their pursuit of Dark Sky Certification from the International Dark Sky Association. Friends of Taylor Observatory (foto) works in partnership with the Lake county Office of Education by enhancing STEM education opportunities for Lake County’s K-12 students.

Living as we do on the landscape of Lake County’s 1,327 square miles, surrounded by Snow Mountain, Mount Hannah, Mount Konocti, Cobb Mountain, Mount Saint Helena and other high peaks, the mountainous terrain is a contributing factor to our population dispersal, and we emit less light pollution than more populous areas. So, why should we care about dark skies? It’s important to plan ahead for our country’s future growth.

The same issue is considered in most areas where observatories are located. In Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain where my family resides, the Teide Observatory is located at a high enough, and unpopulated enough region of the island that viewing conditions are still pristine. Teide Observatory at 7,840 feet has been operated by the Instituto de Canarias since 1964 and has enjoyed unspoiled sky views in part due to its dark skies. As an aside, this important facility was spared from the huge wildland fires that occurred there last summer.

Another son who resided in Hawaii, was within visiting distance to the Mauna Kea Observatories which are located on 525 acres known as the Astronomy Precinct, also a spot selected because of its dark skies or lack of light pollution making it ideal for astronomical observations. Its location at 13,796 feet positioned it in a low humidity latitude, also ideal for studying the skies as the elevation aids in distortion from low-lying moisture.

Astronomers understand the negative effects that light pollution can cause and promote fully shielded lights, which do not point upwards, but instead, direct the light down. Supporters of Dark Sky Initiative are Audubon, National Science Foundation, National Park Service and more, since the effects of light pollution disrupts not only our view of the universe, but wildlife, bird migrations, and is also said to be a contributing factor to human health and energy costs. Carl Sagan, in his book, Cosmos said, “By looking far out into space we are also looking far back into time, back toward the horizon of the universe, back toward the epoch of the Big Bang.” We humans want to keep learning. That is in our nature.

To become inspired about what is out there in space you have only to reach for the Audubon Society’s Field Guide to the Night Sky, a pair of binoculars, a telescope or an app on your phone! You won’t want to miss the April 8th, 2024, total solar eclipse when the Moon positions itself between the Sun and Earth, casting its shadow. Astronomy Magazine’s online site lists places and times it can be viewed across the United States. They also list not-to-be-missed astronomical events such as meteor showers, planet viewings and more!

For millennia, the beautiful and silent night skies have been an inspiration to Indigenous people. There is a Pomo Indian myth collected by S.A. Barrett that tells how Coyote Creates the Sun, Moon and Stars and Peoples the Earth. The story goes, that Coyote used four carefully prepared pine sticks and attached feathers of eagle and buzzard with milkweed string.

Next, he positioned himself in four ways- laying on his stomach, standing upon his head, laying on his back and standing up straight. Then he scattered water up to the sky by flinging a dipper of water about. After a time span of four days, clouds formed sufficiently as to gradually cover the sky.

Coyote then took an obsidian knife, cut four corners into an oak ball and tossed it up high where it became the sun. The sun told the moon that it would like her for his mother. The moon, having been created in an earlier myth told by the Pomo, was created out of blue clay. The sun and the moon said that Coyote should make a fire, then throw the glowing coals up into the sky to create the stars. They said he should be sure to send another one up toward the east to create the morning star. Coyote asked Mother, “How can we make it dark?”

Moon said, “Well, we will make a big fire and we will then take a willow club and strike it and make it go out. That will make it dark.”

The Sun promised two things: It promised that it would never go out, and that it would rise each morning. The Moon then said that it would rise each morning. Next, the Moon then said that he would shake his head to make the earthquake.

Meanwhile, Coyote stated that he wanted to continue creating things. So he designed plants, food, birds, and animals, giving each a specific job and place to dwell. Coyote promised to always live in the mountains, even if it meant he could get killed doing so. The creation of the plants and animals took him two days and two nights. After these he fashioned supernatural beings which took another two days and two nights. It took a total of eight days for Coyote to create everything. Having done so, Coyote decided to go home and rest.

Philosophers, artists, poets and religious organizations have all been inspired by the night sky. We all recognize Vicent van Gogh’s The Starry Night painting. Edvard Munch also painted Starry Night, while Georgia O’Keeffe painted Starlight Night. A book of paintings by Apollo Astronaut and Moonwalker Alan Bean transports you to the Moon via a very personal view of a world where few have ever visited. Music that depicts the mysteries of space is that of Gustav Holst in his work, The Planets.

Poets have waxed, well, poetic on the subject for centuries. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote, The Light of Stars, Emily Dickinson penned, Ah Moon – And Star! while Diane Ackerman wrote the scientifically accurate poetry, The Planets: A Cosmic Pastoral. The list goes on! In his book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the universe to figure itself out—and we have only just begun.” Mysteries upon mysteries await us.

Be sure to check foto’s facebook or website for special programs such as the recent Love Stories in the Night Sky held on Valentine’s Day.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/friendsoftaylorobservatory?fref=ts

Website: https://friendsoftaylor.org/events/

Also, to learn about upcoming space events visit Astronomy’s website at:

Kathleen Scavone

Kathleen Scavone, MA., is a retired educator who has resided in beautiful Lake County for over 45 years. She freelances fiction, poetry, nature writing, curriculum ideas, and local history. She writes for The Press Democrat, Napa Valley Register, News From Native California, Green Prints, etc. She has published three books, a play and a poetry chapbook. The second edition of her locally set historical novella, People of the Water- a novella of the events leading to the Bloody Island Massacre of 1850 is available in local museums and stores, as well as on Amazon.com and IngramSpark in both paperback and e-book formats. She has written Anderson Marsh State Historic Park- A Walking History, Prehistory, Flora and Fauna tour of a California State Park, and Native Americans of Lake County. Kathleen is a photographer and potter. Her other interests include hiking, assisting on archaeology digs, travel, gardening and reading.

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