The world feels pretty dark these days, don’t you think? Our daily routines—governed by clocks—are the backdrop against which we can measure the growing night. My alarm goes off at the same minute every morning, but last June its timing meant that’d I’d just missed sunrise. Today it took my entire yoga practice and half of my run before the sky was more than gray. In the evenings, I have to be quick to squeeze in a walk without my headlamp.
Today, I didn’t make the deadline.
So I bundled up with jacket and earmuffs, mittens and headlamp, and crunched on thin, dry snow down toward the lake. Halfway there, I doused my light to check on the sky. Although the forecast had been for clouds, stars glittered solemnly behind the twiggy lace of the forest.
Have you ever noticed that when things are the darkest, we tend to focus on the points of light?
Last week it was the full moon that captured our attention. Soon the Geminid meteor shower will blaze through the sky. Just after sunset on December 20 and 21, Jupiter and Saturn will seem to align and almost merge into one bright beacon. If the Sun always shone, we would not notice the beauty of these lights.
There is truth to the cliché that looking at stars makes us feel small; makes our tiny lives seem insignificant. The billions of years. The trillions of galaxies. The unimaginable miles. And one lonely blue planet. Sometimes it’s good to feel small, and to feel our problems shrink proportionately.
But—on a good night—when I look at the stars I also feel immense. I am made of stardust after all. And so are you. I’ve mentioned this before. The warm iron coursing through our veins originated in the core of a dying star. Inhaling deeply, crisp, cold stardust made of carbon and oxygen fills my lungs. I may be small, but I am part of something big.
It’s starlight that fills my belly. The energy of photons, blasted through space and captured by plants, imbues every molecule of sugar with a bit of solar power. Animals take that energy to build muscles and to use them. In my imagination, the Sun’s power shoots from my chest in theatrical rays. In reality, a chocolate chip cookie smolders in the fireplace of my metabolism.
It feels good to think these Universe-sized thoughts after a day of living almost entirely through my computer screen. I’m grateful that we have a season when the mosquitoes don’t bite and the stars come out before my bedtime. Without these long nights of winter, I’d almost never see the stars. I’d miss out on the beauty and the mystery.
As I turn back toward the house, the glittering becomes rainbow-colored. It’s my Charlie Brown Christmas tree—a spindly fir that was crowding my portage to the lake—and the lights I plugged in just before heading outside. Even on a cloudy night, constellations of Christmas lights shine through the gloom.
Yes, in times of darkness, we tend to focus on the points of light. And perhaps the Christmas lights are a good reminder that, in times of darkness, we don’t have to wait for the stars to come out or the moon to rise. We can string up the lights and plug them in, and our neighborhood will be a little more cheerful because of our efforts.
Just before I plugged in my tree, for example, I received an email from a friend about the long lines at our local food shelf, and the people who were turned away when the food ran out. Talk about darkness. It only took a minute to find the donation button on their website, so there’s a pinpoint of light.
Last night, inspired by a woman on the corner with a cardboard sign, my niece and nephews put together “blessing bags” of warm socks and granola bars that they’ll keep handy in the car as they drive around their city. There’s some starlight in those.
We still have a few more weeks while the Earth tilts away; a few more weeks until winter solstice when the days will slowly begin to brighten. For now, I’m going to make a point to enjoy those stars, and the moon, and meteors that the darkness has revealed. And maybe I’ll take my stardust blood and my starlight energy and see if I can add a few more to those pinpoints of light.
Donations to the Ashland, Cable, Cornucopia, and Mellen food shelves can be made at: http://thebrickministries.com/, or find a statewide database of food banks here: https://www.feedingwi.org/
Emily’s award-winning second book, Natural Connections: Dreaming of an Elfin Skimmer, is now available to purchase at www.cablemuseum.org/books. Or order it from our friends at redberybooks.com to receive free shipping!
For more than 50 years, the Cable Natural History Museum has served to connect you to the Northwoods. The Museum is closed, but our Mysteries of the Night exhibit is available online. Connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and cablemuseum.org to keep track of our latest adventures in learning.