One of the most remarkable walks I have ever taken was around Tommy Thomson Park on November 6th, 2021.
It was the night of a new moon, and I got to the park entrance around 10pm. I decided to use an exhaustive search algorithm to explore the penninsula. I would begin walking around the hand-shaped penninsula clockwise, starting at the ‘wrist’ and visiting each ‘finger’ one by one. At every junction between paths, I would choose the one on the left if I had not already taken it. That way, I would explore every dead end and follow every path.
When I got into the park, lit only by starlight and city light reflected across the water, I began to perceive the stars above me as a gigantic compass. In the eastern sky, I could see just the right shoulder of Orion rising. As I walked around the penninsula, with my eyes having adjusted to hours of darkness, I could see by starlight alone. At one point, I was startled when a darker part of the shadow ahead of me moved and scampered off the path, but in less than a second I understood that it was a surprised skunk who had been taking the same path in the other direction hastily getting out of my way.
As the night went on, more and more of Orion was visible until the whole constellation rose about the horizon and up about 30˚ into the southern sky. The whole experience was an accidental but effective tutorial in celestial navigation. With the city visible, I had help orienting myself, and by keeping track of Orion I could make sense of which direction I was moving within Tommy Thomson Park’s suprisingly hard to navigate layout. It looks simple from the air, but since all the parts are equally low and beside one another, it can be very hard on the ground to know exactly where you are and which direction to go to reach somewhere else.
By 2am I was back at the park entrance. I will never forget what it was like to see by just the stars and the glow of the downtown core about 4 km away across the water, and I will never forget the feeling of when my brain flipped inside out to see the sky like a spherical compass which I was inside of, helping me to orient myself, plot a straight course, and explore.