I get comfortable in my seat, reclining back and relaxing, ready to enjoy the show. I breathe a long, gentle breath in and out in contentment. I made the right decision.
The right decision was to get up at 3.50am in the morning. I had ignored the part of my mind telling me that bed was where I needed to be, the part questioning what the hell I thought I was doing. The right decision was to get some gear together and drive along quiet roads to a rural location – a clearing on the edge of a dry lake bed.
The moon hadn’t yet risen so all was in darkness as I carefully parked the car and headed the short distance to my destination, but it was darkness I came seeking.
I came for dark sky and bright stars.
Yep, I think, as I sit back and admire an abundance of stars like I’d never see from my backyard in town. I made the right decision, and it was worth it. The getting up early, losing a few hours’ sleep, the 30min drive, the time spent finding this spot.
A dark sky spot.
It needed to be easily and publicly accessible, not too far away, with flat terrain and as little obstruction of the horizon as possible. I located the general region by a combination of Google Maps and Dark Site Finder. A daytime reconnaissance mission during the summer break confirmed the site was perfect.
I sit in the darkness on my chair, chosen purposely for its near-horizontal recline, its comfort and portability. I relax and let my eyes adjust. Somewhere crickets chirp their nighttime chorus, and I can faintly hear occasional traffic on the highway 2km away. Off to my right I hear a rustling in the trees. The primitive part of my brain reacts. I imagine a four-legged predator for a few moments before realising the rustling is some harmless animal munching on leaves. I relax.
I see Crux and Centaurus, locate the bright star Archenar. I’ve brought along dad’s old binoculars but mostly I just gaze up naked-eyed. I find Venus and Mercury and watch the sliver moon rise beneath them as the dawn inexorably approaches. In the north-western sky I spy four shooting stars, one of them especially bright.
I gaze up in wonder and awe, feeling so small yet a part of something beautiful. I marvel at God’s amazing creation and the majestic splendour of the starlit tapestry above me. I feel a peace and a stillness inside me. I hope that it stays.
I watch the moon climb higher, chased closely by the approaching dawn. Too soon the sky lightens and lightens, the stars fade and then they are gone. Only the brightest remain. They too will soon disappear. It’s time for me to go.
I’ve always had an interest in the stars. I remember one Scout camp as a youngster, us sitting round a bonfire on a Saturday night listening to ‘Take 40’ on the radio. Above, the starry heavens as only seen in rural locales.
This weekend’s early-morning adventure has been one small step towards rediscovering passions, interests and hobbies – things I haven’t found time or energy for in recent years. Stargazing didn’t seem practical when I was so busy and tired with other aspects of life.
But there’s something magical in long contemplation of that glorious tapestry above. I intend to do more of it. I think it whispers gently to my sometimes-overwrought soul. Wonder and awe. That’s what I feel as I gaze above.
There are still some experiences that haven’t really changed since the beginning, despite technology and social change. We can still look up in wonder and awe.
Maybe van Gogh felt the same, looking out from his bedroom window in Provence.Calm, peaceful, content: what I feel as I head home seeking breakfast.
I’m praying for clear skies another weekend soon.