Archives for posts with tag: stars

Growing up, I lived out in the country. The only light on warm summer nights came from lightning bugs. I never even heard the words “light pollution”. It was a special kind of paradise, though I didn’t realized it until I grew up, moved away, and looked up into a field of darkness overhead. It was as if the familiar blanket of stars had been covered by a blackout curtain from WWII. Only this one was so all encompassing that it blotted out the entire sky.

Memories of a completely unobstructed night sky are with me still, vivid and personal. From the time when I had grown enough to be outside by myself, chasing butterflies by day and lightning bugs by night only to marvel at their wonders, I would often come to a halt in the driveway, where a big patch of night sky was unobstructed by trees, stand still, look up, and up and up.

I wouldn’t discover science fiction for several more years. Much more time would pass before I even thought of writing…anything. Even so, I was drawn to the stars. Instinctively, I felt a kinship. A sense of belonging to something beyond my house, the farm it was connected to, the greater wide world of continents and oceans. Even the big, blue daytime sky. There was up, and up, higher, higher still, and then there were stars. Oddly, I’ve always been aware of all of that up, up, higher, highest nature of the sky. Even in full daylight, I knew there was more I couldn’t see, but that patience would bring back to me when the sun disappeared and blue turned to black. 

Unfettered starlight seemed like magic to a little child. On a clear night, the entire field of vision available to an up turned face is sprinkled with light that appears along a range from dust to nearly opaque white swaths. Maturity brings with it the understanding that the most dense parts are what we can see of our own Milky Way. Imagine…the miraculous naked human eye can perceive the edge of our galaxy, though our minds can hardly take it in. Glorious is a word I learned to use early in life, just from the simple act of looking skyward.

Though I’m in a place less isolated now, I still find myself pausing after getting out of the car at night. Remembering those childhood hours spent standing still, tilting back my head…staring and staring, drinking in my fill of the knowledge that I was watching outer space, filled with wonder and awe, again I pause to stand beneath the black and silver and gold of the heavens. 

It’s different here, but a dedicated dreamer can use a hand to block out an interfering streetlight and see as much as there is available. Much of the Milky way is lost to me, but Orion is with me still. I’ve seen comets and the occasional meteor. There is enough of vast star filled space to thrill me and rekindle the particular sense of awe borne only of staring long and hard and deeply into the star sprinkled darkness that’s always above us, even when our own personal star shines so brightly that no other light can compete.

I started thinking about those childhood nights of stargazing accompanied only by the sound of my own breathing and the rustle of wind through cornstalks, when I came across this awesome article that gives the best, and certainly most eloquent, directions for stargazing I’ve ever seen. I wanted to share it, so it may help others looking skyward find their way through the outer reaches of our home.

Last night I came across Grey’s Anatomy just in time to see Owen looking up at a night sky full of stars. My DVR will fill in the rest, but in the meantime I’ve been thinking about those stars.

I was reminded that city lights obscure that sight for millions of people. Their entire lives. It’s hard for me to even imagine a lifetime spent in the absence of starlight. I grew up in an isolated area, where the concept of light pollution was as foreign as the depths of the oceans. Yes, I was landlocked, but I had all of space that was visible from my little corner of the Northern Hemisphere above my head on every clear night in which to swim.

I’ve traveled a lot, so I’ve had the opportunity to see the night sky over England and France, Canada and American Samoa, even the Southern Cross over Australia. I stargazed from a cliff high above the Pacific along the windward side on Oahu. The water off that coastline is unusually deep to be so close to shore. So deep in fact that humpbacks sometimes breach there, gifting a fortunate few with an up close display of marine wonder. One night a man had a telescope up there, and generously offered fellow stargazers a peek at Saturn. I stood there, barely breathing, taking in the ring graced beauty of a world hanging there in space such  unimaginable distance away. No whale breached for me that night, but I never forgot the even greater impact of the sight of Saturn, its bright rings pulled near for a moment out of the magnificent night sky.

Still, nothing quite compares to the night sky of my childhood. I didn’t realize then what a privilege it was to have those stars in their familiar constellations visible over my head any time I chose to go outside and look upward in the dark. I took that great black velvet blanket, sprinkled with its brilliant points of light, for granted.

It never occurred to me that there were people all over our world who lived entire lifetimes with that marvelous wide open window to the heavens obscured by the pale, poor imitation of man made light. I never could have imagined that even many of those with the opportunity to gaze upward with wonder went about the mundane business of their lives oblivious. All the stars in the sky waiting to be seen for the simple price of lifting their heads…lost to a field of vision narrowed down to the here, the now, the act of watching their own feet wearing paths into the dirt of a single planet.

Maybe I was just a weird little kid. I certainly didn’t know anyone else, old or young, who went outside to stand in their driveway, rough, sharp gravel cutting into bare feet, and tilt their head so far back that space and time and place all blurred together. I can still remember so vividly the disorienting feeling when up and down just barely lost their relevance. It was as if up and down blended with out there, until everything was a field of vision that was a field of stars. Certain angles, certain moments…it felt almost as if I fell…upward…outward…into the mysterious depths of space itself.

Yes, maybe I was just a weird little kid, overly endowed with a sense of wonder and fascinated by concepts too big for my brain, grappling with ideas and mysteries and awe that have baffled the greatest minds of earth’s collective history. Even so, I was a weird little kid with big questions and bigger dreams.

For me that defines who I was then, and who I am now. Only now that the little kid has grown up there’s a name for it:

Science fiction writer.