The light that reaches our eyes from each and every star in the night sky comes to us from many years in the past.

Sometimes this light, combined with other senses of the body, unlocks memories from our own past.

I was walking around the front of my house in the dark evening earlier this week when my nose caught the scent of burning firewood from a nearby chimney. At the same time, I looked up and my eyes found Orion’s belt shining in the winter sky.

Sights, smells, tastes and sounds can bring back all sorts of memories, both good and bad. For me, the smell of charred logs brings me back to my childhood when we gathered around the fireplace on a cold winter’s night.

The sight of Orion, meanwhile, reminds me of clear, crisp wintertime nights. Together, these sights and smells brought me back to times of carrying my telescope out to the backyard, the crystallization of my breath in the moonlight, ice clinging to objects in the below-freezing atmosphere.

It sometimes was difficult to move a telescope with thick gloves on. And then my beanie would slip down my face and temporarily impair my vision.

And now, as I’m writing this column, I all of a sudden remember how I would have to wear snowpants as well to keep me warm and to keep the snow out when it was covering the ground. (Snowpants must be a “northern” thing — I’ve never seen any sold down here.) And to top it all off, I’d be wearing at least four layers counting my heavy coat on top, and another several on the bottom.

Isn’t it funny that from the time you were born until you were about 15, you didn’t have a care in the world? I know that’s oversimplifying it a bit. But nowadays, as parents, homeowners, job holders and with countless other responsibilities attached to us, there is so much responsibility on our shoulders. Those times at home in the backyard with the telescope were carefree times. Nothing seemed to matter in those moments.

Isn’t it amazing how one sight combined with one smell helped create the past eight paragraphs?

Nowadays, things are a little different. Now I’m the adult with all the responsibilities. I welcome it. I wouldn’t say I savor it, but I happily deal with it. And, I still have a telescope.

And there still are those chilly, winter nights, looking up at Orion and smelling the smoke from a nearby fireplace ...

Joe Malan is presentation editor and astronomy writer at the News & Eagle. Email him at

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Joe Malan is astronomy writer and presentation editor for the Enid News & Eagle. Email him at

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