Tonight is as good as it gets on a New Zealand summer evening. Balmy, little cloud cover and the new quarter moon has appeared in the indigo sky. Windless, no traffic, no streetlights in our rural neighbourhood, it is ideal for an after-dinner stroll. The ridges of the western hills are silhouetted against the setting sun, casting deep shadows across the paddocks.
Later once darkness has cloaked the land, we will hear a possum grunt, the raucous squawks of the pukeko, Ruru’s moooorpoooork calls from the trees and the faint replies echoing from the hills as the Moreporks, New Zealand’s owl, go about their nightly hunt for food. Once, while strolling along the streambank, I saw a morepork chick perched on a low branch of a Totara tree. Silent and still, its round unblinking eyes solemnly stared. I’m not sure who watched who that evening.
At different times, we have sat with friends and family in the garden, wine and binoculars at hand and contemplated the mystery and the beauty of the universe, admiring the great Milky splash, the Southern Cross stars that are displayed on the NZ flag. Mars is familiar as are the Pot and the Scorpion. We needed to use the NZ astronomy website to identify other stars such as the seven sisters, Pleiades, or Matariki as Maori call this cluster of stars. In June-July, the re-appearance of Matariki in our southern skies is celebrated because it reminds us of beginnings, the promise of the new growing season. Maori have ancient knowledge of stars and they have many stories to tell. “Swimming across the darkness is Te Ikaroa (the Milky Way), the great fish of Rangi, the Sky Father.”
In January 2007, as we watched McNaughton’s Comet streak across the western night sky, Sis-in-law mused how stargazing natural universal events links us with all skywatchers beyond our time and in far places.
Who will wonder the universal mysteries and admire this comet when it returns in a million years?