Doug Bruns

“Andromeda! Sweet woman!”

In Memoir, Nature on April 16, 2010 at 10:10 am
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More than a dozen years ago I was outside a hut in the Presidentials. It was night, pitch-black, ink-black, and Don, my hiking buddy, and I were  looking at the night sky. We heard the door to the hut open–I think it was Lake of the Clouds–a sliver of faint light escaping, then creaking close again. A fellow hiker joined us, clamoring over the rocks in the dark, proclaiming that he had to see the milky way at least once a year or he suffered dire consequences.  It was easy to spot, splashed across the sky like sprinkle dust on black velvet. He sighed and spoke of contentment.

Galileo proved in 1610 that the Milky Way consisted of stars. Two thousand years before him Aristotle called it “the ignition of the fiery exhalation of some stars which were large, numerous and close together.” The point being, the night sky and the Milky Way specifically, have been a constant through the ages. As a species, we have existed under that night canopy, traipsed and sailed by its iridescence,  studied it, written poems about it. But, me, I have lost it. Unlike the hiker in the mountains, I never considered it important. There is no prodding motivation for awe. Isn’t that what the night sky does? Instill awe? How can I not want that?

I saw my first meteor shower as a young camper in Northern Michigan. I remember having sunburned my back from a day in a canoe and trying to get comfortable in my open air sleeping bag, my back blistered, when the first rock screamed across the night sky. It was followed by another, then many, a flurry of falling matches from the heavens.  Such things stay with a person. And yet, they don’t. Again, how can I not seek that out?

I’m starting to plan some camping trips for spring summer, which is what prompted this stream of thought. At fifty-four I am taking stock. I am making lists. No more of this rambling through life, not realizing what is important and thinking what isn’t is. There is not enough time to keep loosely hopping down that path. On the list, near the top, is the night sky.

Pascal (Pensées) on the universe:

The Universe is an infinite
sphere, the centre of which is
everywhere, the circumference
nowhere.

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