Wednesday, February 12, 2003

I drive every morning 60 miles through the dark cold. Stars watch me from far away glowing blue-white to show their indifference--but they still watch even though they've long ago moved away from where they first trained their bright beams upon the earth.

Cold night air. Through my life I've been out in the cold dark air many times, and how could such an experience not leave its traces in me?

One late night in frigid northern Iowa in the 1970's I went out into our big front yard. We had a foot of virgin snow out there and where the cold moonlight brushed the snow crystals, millions of tiny stars answered their older mightier brethren. Is this the only answer Earth offers to the haughty gaze of those vast fireballs?

Humans have invented artificial lighting and now our planet is a sphere wrapped in a network of glow. We have embraced our lights as though by keeping the dark at bay we can vanquish that distant hauteur. But the stars continue their stately glide through space, their light speeding for millions of years to strike our ephemeral retinas as though that was the reason those particular photons began their journey long before humanity's ancestors had even developed notochords.

So I drank up the stars and the moon, and the millions of reflected beams from the snow; saw the blue waves of snowdrifts spread across our quarter-acre front yard; saw the darkness between the stars and blanketing the countryside between farmyard lights as not black but the blue so deep it's almost infinite.

I inhaled the night air and felt it freeze the moisture in my nostrils as a sharp, dry, pinch. I thought of myself out there under the mysterious universe as no less a mystery, only so small and brief, it was unimaginable.

Nothing stirred. No bird called, no cow lowed. Even the highway two miles away lay silent, respecting the weight of all those billions of years and all those rays of cold starlight.

You are nothing, the stars thought. Compared to our majestic eons you are less than a breath, a blink.

Ah, I said, but I'm looking back at you.

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