My travels through the forests of eastern Pennsylvania found me walking a quiet roadway beside a good sized river. Not the Hudson or Mississippi by any means, more like the rivers I had been raised around in Idaho—rippling along, certainly too wide, deep and swift to wade across but fine for high rubber boots and a fishing line.
The sky had cleared and I had enjoyed a rather warm, dry day on the road. As night fell I began looking and found a little flat point of land jutting toward the river. I stepped across the guardrail and rolled out my bag.
My sleeping bag was WWII surplus, a khaki canvas liner and shell stuffed with dense cotton batting. It was roomy, heavy, and rather miserable when damp, which had been a chronic condition that early spring of 1969.
Thanks to the sunny day my bag was finally dry. I snuggled in when it got dark, since there was nothing else to do, and—well—began to freeze. The clear skies dropped the temperature as soon as the sun disappeared. It just got colder.
The river rippled, the sound of water soothing but seeming to make it colder. It was dark as the dickens. And the stars were splendid. Stunning.
Finally I nodded off.
It was probably two hours later when the cold woke me. Gosh it was cold. But the stars had changed. The patterns I had seen directly overhead were now shifted to the right, having moved from the twelve o’clock position to the two o’clock position. The patterns that had been on my right were gone and the patterns I had noticed on my left were now higher in the sky, at ten o’clock.
I realized when those stars now at ten o’clock were at four o’clock it would mean the cold would soon end. When they hit the far horizon the light would be breaking.
I had enjoyed the stars before, of course. But that night they became the grandest clock of all, ticked off the cold. Promising the warm.
Astronomy changed for me that night. And I for it.