The stars in the heavens have always been familiar to me. On many, many nights in my summer suburban childhood, I played under their glow and twinkle, at least until 8:00 PM when I was called inside at bedtime.* I knew some of the stars' names and some of the constellations, but for the most part I was content to see the stars sparkling overhead with their silver playmate the Moon, sometimes lying on my back in fragrant summer grasses to gaze up into the scintillating vaulted arch of Heaven.
Then when I was grown well into middle-age, I went on an overnight campout with the Sierra Club. I do not remember which state I was living in at the time, either Arizona or California, but this Sierra Club trip took us out of the cities in the desert up into cool, uninhabited mountains of fragrant pines. I usually did not camp with the Sierra Club because I always had to balance my explorations of nature with my obligations to a stuffy little work cubicle, but this outing had been marked in their monthly paper newsletter as overnight and easy. I had time for "overnight", and I knew that I would enjoy "easy" without hindering anyone else's progress on the trip. (Hiking trail sweeps can verbally nip at you as sharply as a herding dog nips at the heels of silly old sheep that think that they can keep up, then cannot and stall the herd.)
An experienced Sierra Club guide led several of us up the trail that I wanted to explore, the easiest of the easy trails. Groups of other Sierra Club members were up and down numerous trails while we took our easy afternoon amble, each of us enjoying our own skill level. I envied and admired them all, and I was happy to fit in wherever I could. In the evening I rested with those fit, mellow folks warmed by their expertly banked campfire, and I counted my blessings which seemed as many as stars in the sky. I was just feeling ready to turn into my little pup tent when someone tapped me on the shoulder and gestured that I should come with him. I looked up into the smiling face of a man I did not know, his eyes twinkled like a father giving a child the best gift ever, so I put aside my woman's fears of strangers, and followed him up a short trail and around a bend away from the campfire. He gently said, "Sit here, see the stars, and come back when you are ready." Then he went away. I silently gazed up into the night sky and the dome of Heaven opened up. I saw the brilliant Milky Way set in a black night sky with a splendor that I had never seen before. The blazing stars of the Milky Way sparkled off the black velvet rife down its center. It was a three-dimensional Milky Way that sprawled across the sky, owning it from horizon to horizon. The night was very cold before I was able to pull myself away from the glory of that brilliant diamond and black night sky.
I never saw the heavenly dome of the Milky Way that way again because I am too old and wise to chance the woods at night. But I thank that kind stranger and the gods in Heaven for that most singularly beautiful of experiences.
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* At puberty my father sadly told me that I could not play outside at night anymore, and so I did not because I understood his concerns. In a more evolved world everyone, everywhere would be able to play in the night under the stars with only joy in their hearts. I am such a dreamer, in a thousand years will my dreams come true? Sooner?
Caption: The Dome Of Heaven Opened Up
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2019
Caption: The Great Rife Milky Way
Source: Non-commercial fair use of on-line image that had no attribution