Week of March 2-8, 2014
I'm often asked me how I got started in a career that has long had me gazing skyward, and I'm always thrilled to tell them it began during childhood.
Back in my hometown of Easton, Pa., my Dad would sometimes go outdoors at night, and I would tag along and gaze upward most of that time. It was on these nights during the late 1950s and early 1960s that I began to develop a fascination with the stars and planets, and all the secrets they surely held.
Of course, I had a couple of teachers who presented astronomy in school, and our field trips to Philadelphia's Fels Planetarium and New York's Hayden Planetarium really stoked the fires of my interest. But it was a most unlikely source that introduced me to a couple of my oldest and dearest celestial friends.
Walter was an older neighbor of ours and, during early evenings, he would often step outside for a cigarette while he kept watch on the world and universe around him. And it was out there that I would frequently encounter him while I, too, was gazing with wonder at the heavens.
Walter was an avid fisherman, and he looked forward to springtime more than almost anyone I've ever known just so he could again drop a line or two into the Delaware River. I always enjoyed listening to his grand tales whenever we encountered each other outdoors, but I was surprised to learn that he also knew a thing or two about the stars.
Just as I would search the snow-covered ground of late winter for buds of green to excite me about the approaching spring, Walter used the sky for the same purpose. In fact, it was he who first introduced me to the Big and Little Dippers.
I remember standing by his gate at the end of our yard looking toward the northern sky above my house. And, as his pointing finger jumped from star to star, I suddenly saw what he was describing. Wow! There it was: the Big Dipper!
He explained how every spring the Dipper appeared to be standing on its handle in the northeastern sky after spending the winter months out of sight behind my house.
He went on to describe how he could use the Big Dipper to find the North Star (also known as Polaris). "Just follow the two 'pointer stars' at the end of the Dipper's bowl," he would say, "and there it is!"
Now this is really cool stuff, I thought. But this wasn't the end of the lesson. "At this time of year," he continued, "the Little Dipper, hangs down from the North Star." And, again, I followed his pointing finger... and there it was too!
Many decades have passed since then, but I still look forward to springtime just to see my oldest celestial friends again.
This week, go outdoors and find the Dippers in your sky. And, while you're out under the stars, think back to how you first learned about such wonders of nature. You might just be surprised to recall that you, too, had a "Walter" somewhere in your life.
Visit Dennis Mammana at www.dennismammana.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.