An Epiphany of Light

The Southern Cross

Sometime in the late 90s while on a trip to Buenos Aires I was invited for an asado at my nephew Georgito O’Reily’s house in San Isidro. It was dusk and soon I noticed hundreds of bichos de luz or fireflies. I knew I had to look up. I did and square in the middle of the sky I saw the Southern Cross. I was hit by nostalgia for the sky of my youth.

The Dutch-American astronomer Bart Bok used to say: “The Southern Hemisphere holds all the good stuff.” He was probably referring to the fact that we have “the two best globular clusters, the largest and brightest naked-eye external galaxies, the largest diffuse nebula, the largest dark nebula and a Milky Way bright enough under our dark transparent skies to cast shadows during certain times of the year,” in the words of the journalist Luke Dodd.

From The Dazzle of the Southern Sky by Vanessa Barbara — NY Times

It was January 1950. My Uncle Tony, Tía Sarita, their son and my first cousin Jorge Wenceslao, my mother and I set out on a stern paddle-wheeler up the Paraná River from Buenos Aires to the river port of Goya in the northern province of Corrientes. I could say that the river was infested with jacarés (alligators) and pirañas but I don’t recall noticing any of them. We arrived at little Goya in the evening. A capataz from the Estancia Santa Teresita (owned my Wenceslao’s Tía Raquel) met us in an ancient Studebaker truck. We were told to board it and to lie down for safety. We drove all night on dirt roads. We looked up at the sky.

It was during this drive to Santa Teresita that I can attest to journalist Luke Dodd’s asserting that the dark transparent skies cast shadows. I could see my hands from the huge swath of the Milky Way that swept from one end of the horizon to the other. The many stars had earthly competition from a myriad of bichos de luz (luciérnagas or fireflies) that were everywhere. There was a din of crickets and other insects. And the great Southern Sky was there beckoning us to our destination. I was much too young to associate the experience with Gaspar, Balthazar and Melchior leading their camels in a similar but certainly inferior sky as they were in the Northern Hemisphere.

Olaf Stapeldon’s The Starmaker

Link to: An Epiphany Of Light

Originally published at

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