Dana and I were talking about the night sky a while back, and I told him about two "astronomical" experiences I had earlier in the decade, one viewing a lunar eclipse, and a second Total Perspective Vortex moment with myself and the Milky Way. I think what I wrote about the moon is lost to the ages, but I found the one about the Milky Way. The date it was composed is lost, but I'm fairly certain it was July 2003.
I wrote this to someone I was once close to, but I'm not going to rewrite it, so here it is, unedited.
I’m writing this (on my palm pilot) just before bed on Sunday night. I’ll email it to you when I get home.
Tonight I had another "astronomical" experience, one on par with my experience with the moon. I'm here at my mom's, and while I intensely dislike the town and it remoteness, the one thing I love here is the sky. I was disappointed the first two nights here; it was overcast and rainy and at night there was nothing to see. But tonight nature smiled on me and the sky was clear but for a few small, whispy clouds.
I was leaving my friend Vince's house and looked up to see a sight I'd not seen in years: the amazing, incomparable heavens as seen from the high desert. My memory was a pale and shabby substitute for what I saw. Literally THOUSANDS of stars: bright and faint, distinct to barely detectable, and the Milky Way a glowing ribbon of light going right overhead.
I left Vince's and went to my mother's. I parked my car but could not bring myself to going inside. Instead, I walked around the corner into the darkness where no nearby streetlamp reached. There I stayed, walking in small circles, head tilted back and going around and around, marveling at what I saw. It was so clear and there were so many stars out that it was actually somewhat difficult to make out the best known constellations in all this stellar grandeur. I had to squint my eyes to make the dimmer stars vanish so I could find familiar celestial landmarks like Cassiopea and Cygnus.
And, as if this wasn't amazing enough, I saw no less than five shooting stars, two of which were no mere specks, but visibly flaring and fading. The word magical has so many wrong connotations, but it's the best word I can think of at this late hour.
Then, as I looked straight up and the Milky Way directly overhead, I found myself shifting my focus from its glowing parts to its darker patches...and that's when it happened. By shifting my focus I suddenly realized what I was seeing, and that the dark areas were the dust and other material of the interstellar medium, and that the glow was, in many cases, coming from beyond and behind it. In that moment the whole sky became dimensional. There was this sense of things both near and far -- although even "near" is impossibly far. As with the Moon, it became real in a way that stunned me. Its immenseness struck me on a very deep, animal level, and I felt as if I could fall into it. There was a fleeting moment of almost primal fear. I felt overwhelmed, impossibly tiny. And a moment later, exhilarated and awed by what I was seeing and feeling.
As I stared heavenwards I wished you were at my side, holding my hand, and sharing this moment of staggering beauty with me. I know you would have appreciated it at least in some way that I did. I wanted, in that moment, to share that with you. I hope that someday I may.