Interpreting the stars

Jim O’Connor interpreting the stars; photo by Dan Chase

Jim O’Connor interpreting the stars; photo by Dan Chase

Pam Boedeker

SaddleBrooke Nature Club has found some of our greatest resources right here!

Jim O’Connor is an outstanding example of someone who has found time in retirement to delve further into a special interest. Fortunately for us he is willing to share his wealth of information on astronomy and its relevance to Native Americans.

Jim served in the Air Force for 25 years. Following that, he had a 23 year career in the missile and satellite industry. His lifelong focus on the skies includes over 20 years as an amateur astronomer.

Jim’s presentations combine looking at the night sky from both a scientific and cultural perspective. He has shared his knowledge at school science nights and the annual Grand Canyon Star Party where he is the South Rim Coordinator.

His studies have revealed amazing similarities in how local cultures look at the sun, moon and stars. For most, the sky is an integrated part of life. There is an emphasis on working within the universal domain. The O’odham, Hopituh Shi-nu-mu, Yaqui (or Hiaki or Yoeme) and N’De or Indeh and the Navajo (or Dine) are just some of the cultures he included in his talk.

Stories are passed from generation to generation through story-telling. There are many different stories surrounding the creation of our skies.

The O’odham tell of their people crying out in the darkness. Creator responds by giving light in the form of the sun and the stars.

The Tohono O’odham tell of a boy who flies away and escapes because he is badly treated by his grandfather. After a time he feels bad for his grandfather and returns to give him four tepary beans to feed the people. Once the bean crop is thriving the boy returns to the sky. As he flies away beans from the bag spill out and form the Milky Way. (An ancient version of Jack and the Beanstalk?)

Another Tohono O’odham creation story has the coyote sneaking around a kitchen looking for food. He hears a noise, gets frightened and runs up into the sky with a bag of flour. The bag is torn and flour pours out creating the Milky Way.

The Akimel O’odham relate the night sky to spider webs. Misbehaving children can remain stuck in the web until their parents can find them.

There are so many stories such as the Yaqi love story between the sun and moon. These can be found at [email protected].

Timekeeping, planting, giving birth, weather, ocean tides and ceremonies have been determined by the night sky for Native American cultures. Some villages are laid out in the pattern of constellations. What a wealth of information we have to learn! Jim presented it to us in a delightful and educational format.

SaddleBrooke Nature Club will take its summer hiatus after the June 12 meeting.

Put October 4 on your calendar. We will be having our fall membership picnic at Oracle State Park. More information can be found at