September 05, 2011

Under the Milky Way Tonight, and Every Night

"Look at this!" Jesse exclaimed, gesturing towards the starry sky. "I mean, LOOK at this!"

We'd gone outside to look at the stars, sitting on a bench on the deck of a house on a ridge in Big Sur, on California's Central Coast. The drive up had been long, dark, hilly, bumpy, and, above all else, foggy. We couldn't see a thing on our way up, but now on the ridge, it felt like we could see everything.

"Just think: this sky is always up there. It's always above us, but so few of us ever get to see it," I said. Even the times I'd been stargazing in a Dark Sky Community like Borrego Springs, I hadn't seen this abundance of stars, planets, and other reflective celestial debris.

It was comforting to think of the relative permanence of this sky. Sure, individual stars burn out, and Planet Earth's space missions have dumped a bunch of extra crap up there that's now dangerously polluting outer space, but that sky that was above us in Big Sur isn't not above us in Los Angeles, or even New York. We just can't see it.

That fact was, in a way, even more evident the next morning, when I returned to the deck to face the cloud line that separated us and our sunny day from the damp gloom that was surely dogging the low-lying communities below.

At that point, the clouds were at eye level. I needed to get higher.

I'd left my sneakers in my own car down on Highway 1, having hitched a ride up the ridge with Jesse, and I knew I couldn't hike to the top of the ridge in my flip flops, so I slid a pair of water shoes (brought for anticipated beach-walking) over my socked feet and headed up the road.

It got sunnier and markedly hotter as I reached the top of the ridge, past the tree line, where the landscape transformed from forest to ranchland.

It looked as though I was standing atop of some kind of island in the sky. I looked out where the Pacific Ocean should be, and all I could see was a blanket of uninterrupted white. Soft, but solid, and immoveable.

I relished the heat and the sun, which I hadn't felt much of since heading west and north from Paso Robles on my way up to Big Sur. And I reminded myself, although I knew I would soon return to the cold and damp of the ocean shore, "It's always sunny...up here."

You just can't always see it.

Later that morning, I reunited with Jesse at the house and returned to the bench on the deck, where instead of gazing upwards, we looked straight ahead at the fog rolling in right towards us. The cloud-like matter was both advancing and receding, somehow simultaneously, and we watched it move, somewhat in disbelief. How rare is it that you get to monitor the movement of that which oppresses you? Track its course? See both above and below it?

How much more enlightened would we - could we - be if we were able to do that all the time? Even down below?

Related Reading:
Above the Clouds

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