Secret Shame: Short-sighted stargazing leaves me adrift in stellar sea

Once upon a time, I was a member of the Young Astronauts. That’s not the secret shame — my membership in this esteemed club and lifelong fascination with space merely provides some background for my tale.
One of the coolest things about camping in the mountains is the breathtaking views of the night sky. The deep darkness provided a suitable canvas for the cacophony of coldly glimmering stars and the faint band of the Milky Way.
There was even the blaze of an occasional shooting star. It was a wonderful sight.
There was one downside wherein my secret shame resides — I couldn’t recognize any of the constellations. While I’ve never been good about picking out the more obscure formations, I always thought I could spot Orion or the Dippers.
I felt lost amid this stellar sea. It was like looking at a map without labels or a legend. The navigational points I had learned over the years had sadly escaped me.
I looked toward the north to find the Big Dipper and hopefully follow it to the northern star of Polaris.
No joy — I couldn’t see anything that I recognized. I was walking through the darkened campground with a friend who was having similar difficulties.
We had several theories about why the night sky was so strange to us. The massive black shadow of Eureka Peak loomed more than 2,000 feet over the campsite. The mountain was northwest of the campgrounds and may have obscured a good part of the sky.
What the mountain didn’t obscure, the cover of tall pines did. Gazing through the tree canopy was sometimes like peering through a celestial porthole.
In the days and nights upon returning to Chico, my consternation at myself grew as I continued to try to spot the basic star patterns. After staring up in the sky for about 10 minutes, I couldn’t pick much out. I thought I spotted Cassiopeia, but I wasn’t sure.
Determined not to let this get me down, I took one more look at the night sky. Finally a lightbulb went off as I peered into the dark. There was relief as I could spot at least a couple of constellations.
The Big Dipper scooped close to the horizon, providing credibility to my theory that I couldn’t see this constellation in the mountains because of the tree cover or hills.
While I’m glad that I’m not going senile and forgetting what I learned about the stars, I think a refresher or two may be in order. Thankfully, the mountains are close by and there’s an open-air observatory at Bidwell Park.