What Is the Bear’s Nose?


The name of this blog is a reference to the bears in the sky: Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Big Bear and Little Bear. Mother Bear and Daughter Bear.

Most people nowadays know them as the Big Dipper and Little Dipper. For millennia, navigators throughout the northern hemisphere have used them to find the North Star, which is key if you are navigating by the stars.

In various languages, these constellations are known as buckets, wheels, or wagons. Elsewhere, they are known as bears. Where these constellations are called bears, they are, more often than not, specifically identified as female bears. Their Latin names, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, make that specification. If they were male bears, or just plain bears with no need to specify gender, they would be Ursus instead of Ursa.

A common misconception is that the bears and the dippers are exactly the same stars. In actuality, the constellations we know as the dippers are only part of the much larger bear constellations. They are the brightest stars of Ursa Major and Minor, and the easiest to see. Originally, the dippers were the bears’ hindquarters, while their heads were indicated by much fainter stars, now invisible in most of the human-inhabited world due to light pollution.

By and large, the existence of the larger constellations have been forgotten. When people render Ursa Major and Ursa Minor as bears, they typically redraw the dippers as bears, requiring some creative thinking and bending of reality. Most constellation illustrators put the bears’ noses at the outer rims of the bowls and make the dippers’ handles into the bears’ tails, giving them very long tails that stick out behind them, not the short, stubby, mostly indiscernible tails that real bears have. The North Star is at the tip of Little Bear’s tail. Big Bear’s nose points to it.

H.A. Rey, best known as the creator of Curious George, also wrote and illustrated a book about stars. His rendition of the Big Dipper as the Big Bear made the handle her nose instead of her tail (image or link here).

The North Star, then, would be Little Bear’s nose, if she were drawn the same way.

Either way, the North Star is a bear’s nose.

So why not just call this blog the North Star? For one thing, that name is already taken, several times over. The first couple hits I get when I search for it on Google are a demolition company and a ski resort. I’m sure I would find even more variations if I dug deeper. I can’t be entirely sure there’s not another Bear’s Nose out there, but I can be reasonably sure that no one else is creating a blog under that name for anything like the same reasons as mine.

For another, I like to be original, and not too obvious. Story, like Picasso said about art, is a lie that tells the truth.

The idea behind this blog, and my nascent practices as an herbalist and astrologer, is to create something that helps people find their north star, and enjoy the journey along the way.

All photography provided by Jared Chambers

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