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Night by Day: Sketches of What Frames the Starry Sky

Above is a selection of the original drawings Denis Wood and his students made to sketch the horizon line in summer at the top of Boylan Hill. These drawings were linked together and the stars charted to make the map directly above, The Night Sky.

Says Denis Wood in EVERYTHING SINGS: MAPS FOR A NARRATIVE ATLAS about “The Night Sky”:

This is what you see at night, in early July, if you’re in Boylan Heights and you look up at the sky . . . if you can get out from under the trees. At the top of the hill, in the middle of Boylan Avenue, we lay on our backs to make this map of the stars above the neighborhood. It was about ten o’clock and the asphalt was still warm with the day’s heat. We had a star finder, a flashlight to read it with, paper and pencil. We made a sketch of the horizon and roughed in the stars we could see and returned the next day to make dozens of detailed drawings. Afterwards we linked these together for a 360º view and used charts to make sure of our stars. With a shrunk-down copy, we went back to the street at night and fiddled with it until we got it right. During summer in Boylan Heights, when you look up, you mostly see trees. At the right, where the horizon dips toward the north, you can see across the cement factory toward downtown and the cylindrical bulk of what was then the Holiday Inn. The white rectangles at top are the lit windows of a house on the east side of Boylan Avenue. The streetlight’s on the west side. The mass of foliage to the left lead south down Boylan. Above? Vega—one of the night sky’s brightest stars is nearly overhead in the Lyre of Orpheus that the Muses placed in the sky after he died. Zeus put the Ursas in the sky. With the glare and summer humidity, we couldn’t see Ursa Minor at all, and all we could see of Ursa Major was its tail, our Big Dipper. Where is Boylan Heights? It’s in the United States and North Carolina and Wake County and Raleigh, but first and last it’s in the universe. As William Saroyan said, “Birth is into the world, not into a town.”

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