There, just above the trees, as the last colors of sunset fade from the sheets of high clouds. Watch, look just a touch to the side. Yes. Through the veil of sunset, as the sky darkens from rose to ash-of-roses through lapis to ultramarine. Three diamonds, faint as a dream’s last touch at sunrise, then three more appear. The clouds thin and the Hunter appears before dimming once more. Orion’s ghost stalks the night.
This year has been rather unusual, in that Orion appeared more often in August and September than in November and December. I watched him rising as I walked before dawn, noting first the dog-star (the marker for the beginning of the Nile flood season), then the Seven Sisters and Taurus, and at last the great hunter rising over the houses. The morning skies also rewarded the early risers with a planetary cluster that dominated the dawn for several weeks.
Come December, just as Orion began appearing in the evenings, clouds drifted in as well. I shifted my walks from early morning to evening, watching the stars rise and Christmas lights appear. The sun, far to the south, ignited the ice-clouds at the end of the day. Spectacular sunsets graced the evenings as white and blue skies shifted to rose and gold, then pink and orange-ruby crimson fire, the colors no artist has yet been able to capture.The colors swept the horizon from northeast to west-by-north, salmon and lavender. But those same high clouds faded the stars, leaving the moon and hints of distant suns. No diamonds hung in the deep velvet of the darkest of cold winter nights. Instead wisps and veils of silver draped the sky, not even visible at times but still hiding the stars.
But a cold front is coming, snow laden and wild. And after that? Nights of bitter cold when snow creaks, the wind shivers as it trickles across the land, and the arc of heaven drops close enough to touch, when you can see for thousands, millions of years, deep into the heart of Orion. Arctic cold to scour the clouds away, leaving bare stars and wonder.