Friday, March 6, 2015

10. Stars

In North Carolina, Shanty Town (Hotdog, Whistle, Grim, Apollo, The Hunger, Dumptruck and I) rolled up to a shelter one evening, and discovered that a fellow hiker had brought a star chart. As the sun set, and the last light drained away from the April sky, we pushed aside granola bars and sporks and unrolled the star map onto the picnic table. We all gathered around, orienting ourselves to the map, and then looked skyward, expecting to be able to find all the constellations.

Big Yankee and Dutch

For one of the few times in my life I found that I was completely unable to see any constellations. This wasn't because the constellations weren't there. It was because they were ALL THERE. The sky threw a party and absolutely everyone was invited. There were the jock stars, the artistic stars, the LARPing stars and the music nerd stars. There were even all those dramatic look-at-me-look-at-me mid-supernova stars. With everyone all hanging out together over our heads, there was no way to find any discernible pattern.

Go ahead, find a constellation in that figurative blanket of stars,
I dare you.
When I was in elementary school, I went for a few summers to a nature-oriented summer camp in Point Reyes, which is on the coast of northern California. It was a total hippie camp, and was my first experience with seeing a grown woman with totally unshaved legs: one of my counselors, whose leg hair was so blond and so abundant it looked as though her legs were surrounded by a holy glowing nimbus. I still vividly remember a lot of my experiences there, even though it was only for a week or so, and I only went maybe 2 or 3 times. I remember my first understanding of molecules, and how they rearranged in front of our eyes as tadpoles grew to become frogs. I remember eating salt grass while standing on a foggy, windswept Pacific Northwest beach, learning about how the moon's gravity pulls water away from the earth. I remember the pangs of a first crush.

Aside from all the wonderful formative experiences I had, I also had the experience of a pair of balled-up underpants that had gotten jammed into a pant leg in the laundry without my noticing, falling out the bottom of my pants and onto the floor while I was standing up in front of the entire camp during breakfast announcement time. It was then that I knew I had two choices:

1. Embrace being an improv comedian.
2. Die.

And thus it began.

Whenever I am hiking or camping and look up at the night sky, I remember sitting around the campfire and learning the story of how the stars came to be. The campfire at Point Reyes was also where I was told that "campfire smoke is inexorably drawn to the most beautiful people" which was a brilliant way of making sure that due to the changing wind each night, everyone felt good about themselves at least once while also ensuring that no one would complain about the smoke in their faces. Even when our eyes were watering and we were coughing, we would screw up our faces and mutter over and over again in our heads I'm so pretty, I'm so pretty.

They told us a Native American story, about how the gods became angry with the animals of the earth for being jealous and petty, and punished them by covering the sky in a thick, dark blanket. Each one of the big, strong animals tried to prove their superiority by trying and failing miserably to rip the blanket from the sky. Eventually, the tiniest creature, a hummingbird, flew up as high as he could and poked a tiny hole in the blanket with his sharp beak. When he did so, a little pinprick of light was able to pass through the blanket. The hummingbird was able to do this only a few more times before he was exhausted and overcome. Only then did the animals learn to work together. They joined their voices to encourage the tiny hummingbird, to give him strength through their support and love. Over time the hummingbird was able to poke thousands of tiny holes in the blanket, creating pictures of his friends like the bear, the rabbit, and the horse. The gods forgave the animals once they had learned their lesson, and removed the blanket from the sky. But each night the blanket returned, to remind the animals to keep their hairy butts in line and get along already, jeez guys, sheesh!

When I am in the woods, far away from all the light pollution, I can see the universe, and I can be completely absorbed into the science and the profound infinity of space. 

And I can also believe in a tiny hummingbird, teaching us to love.

Looking up the fire tower at the peak of Smarts Mountain, NH
Photo credit for this and all other photos on this blog: 
Michael Wilson (aka Dumptruck)

Clever Girl

1 comment:

  1. Wow! That fire tower picture is spectacular. Another perfect match between pictures and story. Well done you two! Love, Mom and Dad