It’s midnight in Marathon, Texas. I’m lying in the back of my truck, nestled in a sleeping bag, staring at the awe-inspiring night sky. The heavens in West Texas are always bright, but especially here in the Greater Big Bend International Dark Sky Reserve.
The mission of the Reserve is “to protect the area from the spread of artificial light pollution and promote the use of night-sky friendly lighting practices.” It’s a cooperation between multiple communities, parks, and organizations spanning the US and Mexico. At over 15,000 square miles, it is the world’s largest dark sky reserve.
I needed this break. Call it my genetic makeup, generational trauma, or radioactive fallout from our culture, but I too easily get wrapped around my axle, gripped by a sense of urgency that is certainly self-induced.
Vitamin N (Nature) is a remedy for what ails me. I receive healing doses at beaches, mountains, forests, prairies, even my own backyard. But right now, it pours into me through the slowly revolving night sky.
It’s like setting my inner clock to eternal rather than temporal time. As I do this, the gift of my life’s moments—this miniscule allotment—becomes more precious.
It’s a universal human experience to gaze in wonder at the cosmos, to have our breath taken away by constellations, nebulae, and those distant points of light that represent galaxies far grander than our own.
What is your reaction to these mind-bending moments?
Some of us simply revel in the beauty. Some of us feel a chill down our spines, recognizing the tininess of our lives, a visceral pang of existential humility.
My father retells a childhood memory. Growing up on a farm in Wisconsin, the summer nights we’re often insufferable indoors, so he would grab a blanket and go outside to sleep on the lawn. One night, the sky seemed more brilliant with stars than usual. He looked deeply into the pure expanse until he felt overwhelmed, almost scared. But then—even at 8 years old—a transcendent peace settled over him. He had the distinct feeling that whatever had created the universe was living within him as a benevolent presence.
The heavens have awed us since we first looked up from Oldulvai Gorge, and many great minds throughout the centuries have voiced their inspirations.
Somewhere around the 6th Century BCE, an Israelite wrote a beautiful song. Attributed to David, the shepherd who became a king, it shows how this wonder under the vault of night unites humanity through the ages. Tradition names it Psalm 8, and it contains these words:
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are humans that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
Here are some other quotes, just a few out of thousands.
Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them. – Marcus Aurelius
For that which is boundless in you abides in the mansion of the sky, whose door is the morning mist, and whose windows are the songs and the silences of night. – Kahlil Gibran.
The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff. – Carl Sagan
If people looked at the stars each night, they’d live a lot differently. When you look into infinity, you realize that there are more important things than what people do all day. – Bill Watterson
Those last words, from the creator of Calvin and Hobbes, are prophetic. Just think how a daily dose of stargazing could help us realign our priorities! It could awaken us to that state of mindfulness prescribed by so many spiritual teachers. It could help heal the tragic divisions that have always plagued humanity. Like astronauts who never see Earth the same after viewing it from orbit, we might develop that embracing vision of our shared destiny we so desperately need. I wrote about this in my book Invitation to The Overview.
But right now in Marathon, Texas, under this night sky that extends around the planet, I simply sigh and settle into that middle ground between the ever-expanding vastness above me and the uncharted atomic worlds within my own body.
I set myself to eternal, not just temporal, time.