Now That’s A Bear Of A Different Color

A deer crosses Riley Road in Lakewood Township shortly before sunset last night (Sept. 19). Thick haze tinted the sun cherry-red. Photo: Bob King / Duluth News Tribune

We had a lot of haze last night, and I never did see the ATV during its brief pass. Anyone catch it? Otherwise the night was unusually warm. During twilight I even saw one or two male fireflies dipping over the tall grass apparently in search of a female. It’s unusual to see fireflies this late in the season. Fall starts Monday.

It’s not too hard to see a bear among the stars of Ursa Major if you have an open view to the north-northwest. Look about halfway up in the northwestern sky around 8:30 p.m. to find the Dipper. Connect the dots to extend the Dipper — the bear’s back and tail — to the fainter stars that form his legs and head. — created with Stellarium

This is a good time of year to see the full outline of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. Just about all of us can recognize the Big Dipper. It’s currently positioned at a comfortable viewing angle in the northwestern sky around 8:30 p.m. The bear’s paws are tip-toeing over the treetops this time of year.

The seven Iroquois hunters pursue the bear across the early fall sky. The star that represents Owl is more familiar to us as Arcturus, the brightest star in Bootes the Herdsman. Can you find all seven hunters the next clear night? The cooking pot is the star Alcor, the closeby companion of Mizar. — created with Stellarium and based on historical information from J. Staal’s The New Patterns in the Sky. More Native American sky myths can be found here.

The Iroquois Indians of early America saw the bear differently that we do. To them, the four stars of the Bowl represented the entire bear, while the Handle stars and several stars of the constellation Bootes were the seven hunters. The hunt begins in the spring but by the time autumn arrives, the four furthest hunters have set in the west, leaving only Moose Bird, Chickadee and Robin. Robin finally succeeds in killing the bear with an arrow, and when the animal rises up in a final shaking before falling to its death, it sprays blood onto the forest, coloring the leaves red.

The bear is prepared and eaten using the cooking pot carried by Chickadee. All that’s left during the winter months is the bear’s skeleton. Come spring, a new bear emerges from the den and the hunt begins again. This story is a wonderful way of looking at the familiar cycle of birth, death and rebirth that is so much a part of the changing seasons as well as our own personal lives.

Towering cumulus clouds glow pink before sunset last night (Sept. 19) Photo: Bob King / Duluth News Tribune

2 Responses

  1. Far Side of Fifty

    Hey Bob, Great sunset photos…I love the deer crossing the road…you must have that camera poised and ready to go at the drop of a hat. OR do you have a camera mounted on your car?? LOL I almost got a good shot of a deer the other day..alas it was a blurry mess. I too have been intriqued by the wonderful sunset colors:)

  2. astrobob

    Hi Far, thanks! It was just good luck that the deer crossed as I was taking the picture. I literally raced up that road just to see the sun clear the trees for a minute or two. I really wanted to catch that deep red ball color. Sounds like you’ve noticed the twilight colors, too.

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