The sparks from the bonfire that tempers the chilled air race toward the stars. Dropping out of the conversation, I lie back on the ground and look skyward. Trees line the fire ring and abridge the sky, reducing the number of visible constellations. Falling toward the west is Cygnus, great Northern Cross, a swan flying north, the wrong direction for this season. To its east is Cepheus next to his wife Cassiopiea, the queen of Ethopia. Cassiopiea is beautiful, her stars making a clear W in the northern sky. According to legend, her beauty stroked her vanity, getting her hot water with the gods. With her kingdom threatened as punishment for her vainglory, she and Cepheus were forced to sacrifice their daughter Andromeda. Andromeda stands east of her mother, her stars only partly visible tonight. In legend, the helpless girl, bound in chains and tethered to a boulder, stood next to the surf waiting in terror to be ravaged by Neptune’s minions. But she is saved at the last minute. Her cowboy is the wild Pegasus who swept down from the sky and rescued the helpless princess. For his heroic deed, Pegasus now has a prominent place in the autumn sky. The great square of the untamed winged horse stands to the southeast, just above the tall white pines, where he flies proudly across the heavens.
Having once again watched the autumn soap opera, I sit up. The flames have dwindled and the embers glow when poked. I rejoin the conversation. They’ve been solving the world’s problems. Although I know it’s a necessary exercise, my brief travels across the sky have reminded me that it’s also in vain. The same situations play out over and over again. We follow Cygnus in the wrong direction. Like Cassiopiea, at times we become enamored with our own beauty, intelligence or strength, bringing trouble not only to ourselves, but also to those we love. Other times we’re like Andromeda, trapped due to the mistakes of others. But the good news, if there is any, is that our heroes are mostly like to be those least expected to play such a role, like the untamed Pegasus.