Thursday, December 24, 2009

Cowgirl Sass & Savvy

North Star, OnStar and the Christmas Star

Julie Carter

For centuries and long before time was recorded, our ancestors used the stars for their navigation around the globe.

Fixing the location of the North Star in the night sky, they would head out in that direction in the morning, slay a mastodon or two and return by evening.

The Vikings, and later Columbus, after Isabella sold her jewelry for him to get to America, navigated by sextants and the constellations to maintain a course on uncharted waters.

It could be speculated that the Indians that greeted the New World travelers on the eastern shores of America, had ancestors that got there by crossing the Alaskan land bridge following the migration of reindeer, using the North Star for a point of reference.

The new Americans followed the stars across the country from Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and even some from Yankee territory, to the open ranges of Texas and the gold fields of California and the Rocky Mountains.

They came with dreams of riches and a new life on the frontier.

The estimated 13 million cattle driven from South Texas to Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Montana were guided by a cowboss' fixation on the North Star at night to give direction in the daylight.

Later cattle drives could simply follow the trail left by the earlier herds, but they were still capable of star navigation when the need arose.

Since the time of man, it has been known that in the winter, the run rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest.

In the summer, it rises in the northeast and goes down in the northwest, making the transition at the equinox. The stars shift slightly with the changing of the seasons.

Today, we have this wondrous invention for our most popular mode of transportation - the automobile. OnStar is the push-a-button technology that puts you in touch with a voice to tell you where you are, where you need to go, call for emergency help and a plethora of other options.

Recently, a member of the cowboy set partnered with the bank to own a new pickup truck that came fully loaded with gadgets, digital bells and whistles and, yes, even OnStar.

Manfully, he mastered the owner's manual and learned how to operate this wondrous vocal guide, determined to become a member of the modern generation.

One of the first opportunities to use it came when he ventured across the cattle guard and even a few county and state lines, to compete at the U.S. Team Roping Championships in Oklahoma City.

He purposed to use for the first time his new navigational system.

His wife, not so sure about the technology, brought her along her worn, but trusted Rand McNally.

The new Onstar was activated at departure time, and gave vocal directions at every highway change, telling the cowboy which direction and highway number to take.

He later reported that the helpful instruction by the insistent voice was wrong at each and every turn.

"It was like having my mother-in-law in the back seat," he said.

When he turned into the parking lot of the arena in OKC, the Onstar voice told him, "go 12.2 miles east and you will be there."

The cowboy didn't bother to turn on the OnStar guide for his trip home. He decided the stars and Rand McNally would get him there just fine.

Wise cowboys in all seasons are known to be guided by the stars. In this season, we are a reminded of the navigational star that led some other wise men, mounted on camels, along with a few sheepherders, to Bethlehem.

The Star of Bethlehem was the miraculous sign that told the world of the birth of the Christ and led the magi to the stable where they presented Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

It was not the only navigational tool in the history of the world, but surely the most important one.

May you all have a blessed Christmas season and keep your eyes on the heavens.

Julie, who is frequently lost in thought and beyond the help of OnStar, can be reached for comment at

1 comment:

John Swindells said...

When Paleoindians came into North America the North Star was not a fixed star as it is today. Closest thing at that time was the Star Vega in the constellation Lyra. It described a small circle in the sky and could have been used for navigation.