Stop, Look, and Let Your Eyes Adjust

I live in Sacramento, a good-sized city. Light pollution from buildings and parking lots clouds the night sky, making star gazing a limited adventure.

I recently went to Crater Lake, Oregon, high in the Cascade mountain range, far from any population centers. At night, the sky was spattered with stars, like confetti littering the street after a Superbowl parade. I could make out the Milky Way, a faint background haze stretching across the black from horizon to horizon.

I was amazed, speechless, mesmerized. Now I know what they mean when they say “star-struck.”

I walked along the rim trail walk away from the lodge, the only lighted building nearby. When I felt the darkness around me was complete, I stopped and did nothing but look for several minutes. As I stared upward, my eyes continued to adjust, and the whole starlight show slowly unfolded. More sparkles appeared with each passing minute. They filled in the spaces where I had thought there was only black. I began to think that if I could see it all, there would be more light than dark.

The gauzy haze of the Milky Way became a glowing film of cotton candy banded across the sky. Everything gained dimensionality, going from a flat screen to layers textured with volume. It struck me that each star was a sun, maybe with planets, moons, and life. The growing kaleidoscope felt alive, as if the whole wild display was growing in me, filling the space inside my body, or maybe I was expanding out to meet the universe.

I smiled a wide, giddy grin. If I was star-struck before, I was awe-struck now. I felt happy. More than happy – I was saturated with joy. I wanted to open my arms and embrace it all, join in the beauty, the majesty, the totality.

My heart bloomed with gratitude that these distant stars had thrown their photons across unfathomable spans of time and space to reach my eyes and create this spectacle. Light meeting light, all one field, seeing itself. Just me, the night, and a million billion blazing suns filling the world with delight.

The tips of my nose and ears reminded me that the night air was cold. My senses were sharpened, alert. I wanted to keep this feeling of unity with the universe, but I knew it would fade. Still, having had the experience, I knew I could return to the memory at any time by doing what I had done:  stop what I was doing and, for a few minutes, just look.

All those stars are shining, even now, showering us with their gift. If I look up at the sky on a bright day, I know that they are there, behind the blue, bathed in radiance. On days when my attention is pulled by the distraction of false lights and shiny substitutes, I find that reassuring.

Photo by Klemen Vrankar on Unsplash

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