Saturday, December 27, 2008

Starry Night

The night of Christmas Eve, I went to bed a little after midnight (so actually Christmas morning, I suppose, if you want to get technical), book in hand for a little light reading. I settled down all comfy and warm as could be and tried to enjoy the literature before me. I encountered a word with which I was unfamiliar (the breadth of my vocabulary is sadly lacking at times) and resolved to ignore it and forge ahead. Unfortunately for me, the author insisted on frequent repetition of said word, and in the end I realized that my options were to either give up on reading or to continue without a lick of understanding. Or, alternatively, look the word up.

Dammit. After a moment’s hesitation, I swore, extricated myself from the piles of blankets, and rolled out of bed. I shuffled down the hall and fumbled with the light switch (managing to turn on every bulb and fan but the one I wanted), and finally illuminated my path to the end table. I pulled out the dictionary and flipped through its pages, trying to recall the alphabet as I searched for the mysterious word. After staring stupidly at the page where the word ought to have been located for a good thirty seconds, it slowly dawned on me that this particular dictionary did not contain this particular word within its binding. Double dammit. At least I didn’t feel quite as bad about not knowing the word.

So I had to go upstairs and pull up I was already awake and cold. No turning back now. I passed the dying fireplace and the snoring dog, rammed my knee into the coffee table, and somehow made it up the stairs without further catastrophe. As I muttered to myself and walked over to my laptop in the pitch black room, I happened to glance up at the skylight. And I was blown away.

I did not see a jolly old elf with eight tiny reindeer, unfortunately, but the night was clear and the stars shone brightly, contrasting splendidly with the dark sky. By chance I just so happened to be wearing my glasses, so the visual was remarkably focused. I stood up on my tiptoes and pressed my face against the slanted glass to get a better view. It was beautiful. When I craned my neck, I could just catch a glimpse of the neighbors’ roof and light post, bare trees illuminated dimly in its ugly amber glow. If I stepped back, however, all this vanished and it was just me and the night sky, stretching on infinitely above and beyond me but framed by this tiny window through which I peered. I couldn’t stop staring—eyes darting wildly about as I tried to pick out the few constellations I recognized; trying to separate stars and planets and airplanes (of which, oddly enough, there were none); trying to decide of that hazy area was in fact the Milky Way. I lay on my back and looked and looked and looked.

I was reminded of a William Blake quote. “If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is: Infinite.” I think he may be right.

It’s not too often that I’m awed senseless like that. I think I might be making up for lost time. Growing up in the suburbs, I never really got the chance to see all of these natural wonders. The stars were hidden by the bright lights of the city. Suburbia doesn’t have a whole lot of interesting ecosystems, either. The “wildlife” consists of half-tame squirrels and a variety of dull-feathered birds. But out here in the country, everything is bigger and brighter and bolder. Just like a McDonald’s customer, I’m lovin’ it.

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