Part of the ALMA array on the Chajnantor plateau of Chile points skyward to the Milky Way, our own galaxy. The center of our galaxy is visible as a yellowish bulge crossed by dark lanes, which are themselves huge clouds of interstellar dust.

Photo from NPR Blog post by Marcelo Gleiser, credited to José Francisco Salgado

This morning, I read a post on a National Public Radio (NPR) blog, entitled “Why We (Should) All Love The Stars.” The text was interesting, but not stunning.  The photograph above, though, was moving in ways words probably cannot express.  But I’ll try.

The moment I saw the image, I was transported back to a specific moment in time.  I was a student attending Montclair Elementary School in Corpus Christi, Texas.  I guess I must have been in third or fourth grade.  Our class was on a field trip to a science museum in downtown Corpus Christi; I don’t remember which one and don’t know if it’s still there.

My memories of that moment are incomplete, but I recall enough detail to know it was an important moment to me at the time. A women, possibly a volunteer or museum staff member, was showing us rocks and minerals and explaining how they formed.  A few particularly beautiful objects caught my attention. They were beautiful and mysterious, one a set of large, angular purple crystals and the other a geode, cut in half and polished. Inside the geode was a bed of tiny purple crystals.  I don’t remember many other details of the experience, but I recall that the woman took a particular interest in me and spent time talking to me about the crystals.  She said looking into the geode was like looking back in time; she asked me to look into the center of the geode and imagine I was looking at a million stars in the night sky, the light of which was millions of years old.

When I saw the photograph of the ALMA Array against the incredibly beautiful sky, I instantly thought of what that woman said. Now, fifty-plus years later, I think she was telling me the crystals were just as mysterious as the stars.  And they were. And they are.

It was amethyst.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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6 Responses to Amethyst

  1. Trish says:

    s/b “symbolic*…my error….

  2. Trish says:

    As you’ve stated Juan, the Aztec calendar, were based on a 52 year cycle for a century, called de “xiuhpohualli.” This I recall well, for my 1st husband predicted his own demise at 50, when this did not happen, he said it would be his “xiuhpohualli.”(which took some studying on my part) this proved to be the truth in his case.

    Not a happy note, but a true one, he was very symbol in his thoughts….milestones if you will…

  3. Juan says:

    I was teaching my World Lit students how to work an Aztec Calendar the other night.

    Mayans and Aztecs worked from a calendar that set 20 days per month at 18 months for 365 days a year. The calendar worked a wheel within a wheel that was set by 52 year cycle of even a bigger wheel! Incredible! They watched the moon with such a serious nature that they could plot seasons, and when they began watching stars in the backdrop, they saw a systemic clock in action.

    Happiness here and melancholia there!

    So a teacher shows us the stars in a rock-stone! And, that’s pretty incredible, too.

  4. Trish says:

    Sounds like you’d met up with a wonderful volunteer/staffer there, John, for you still can remember some details about her, and her magically spin of seeing much further into geode. I enjoy hearing of such fond childhood recollections.

  5. Juan says:

    Well said, Robin!

    John, your post brought some memories back for me.

    For me, it was an old man who lived next door to us named Gene Yoakum who was a retired engineer from Standard Oil. Yoakum must have been some geological engineer because as a boy I got a birthday gift of a boxed-set of minerals from him. Later, and from Yoakum, I got a full set of the Encyclopedia of Knowledge books (remember those?) on one Christmas. In time, I also got a turnip watch from him and a WWII helmet.

    Your post made me think how deeply I was affected by Yoakum. He may have had a deep hand in my interest in learning….I don’t know. But I do know that those little seeds in our youth can turn to great trees under which we later shade ourselves….I think.

    Thanks for you wonderful post!

  6. robin andrea says:

    Such a beautiful memory, John. The kind of inspiring moment that makes you fall in love with magnificence of the universe, and the spark of wonder and awe that lasts a lifetime.

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