starry starry night

I stayed up until almost one this morning, reading comic books.

I know, it's like I'm 12 all over again.

And it's awesome.

Around four, Anne woke me up.

"What's wrong?" I said, while I was still waiting to clear immigration between Dreamland and Reality.

"Nothing. I just couldn't sleep, so I got up and went outside to watch the meteor shower. It's really cool, and I knew you'd want to see it."

I sat up, pushed the covers to one side, and ignored the grumbling protests of our dog, who had just lost his primary source of warmth and cuddling.

"It's cold out, though, so put something warm on."

I grabbed a hoodie and put on my totally-not-lame-but-always-make-me-feel-self-conscious-to-wear-them slippers. I walked through the dark house, past the quiet and strangely comforting hum of my aquarium's filter, and out onto our patio.

I know it's cliché, but the stars were brilliant jewels against a field of black velvet. Betelgeuse was a brilliant red. The Orion Nebula was bright and fuzzy. Sirius, in Canis Major, was such a bright blueish-white I couldn't look directly at it. To the North, Ursa Major dominated the sky, and I could even see Mizar without any effort. Back on Earth, a distant train's whistle sounded from far away, probably from the train yard near Commerce.

"You just missed a fireball," Anne said, quietly. She pointed to the Eastern sky and added, "and there have been tons of little flashes from over there, too."

I wrapped my arms around myself to stay warm and let my eyes roam across the sky. I didn't see any fireballs, but I saw lots of meteors fly across the sky, greenish and yellowish trails flashing then fading behind them.

Maybe it's because I wasn't entirely awake, or maybe it's because I'd been reading about mutants and other worlds before I went to sleep, but as I looked up into the sky, toward Castor and Pollux, I really felt, for the first time in my entire 38 years on this planet, the overwhelming vastness of the universe.

Where I have always felt awe, I felt small. Where I have always felt inspiration, I felt vulnerable. "I'm on a planet, spinning on its axis, racing around a star, moving faster than my mind can comprehend, through that," I thought. "And right now, that planet is flying through an ancient asteroid debris, bits of dust and rock smacking into its atmosphere like bugs against a windshield." I felt a little freaked out.

I've quoted Carl Sagan's Pale Blue Dot so many times, I don't need to look it up anymore to get it right, but last night, looking up into the enormity of the universe, it was suddenly more than poetry and a reminder to take better care of each other.

I moved closer to Anne and put my arms around her. She leaned her head back against my chest and we looked up into the sky together, watching faint meteors streak across the sky every few seconds.

"I'm glad you woke me up," I whispered. "Thank you."

"I'm sorry you didn't get to see the fireballs," she said.

"Nah, it's okay. I didn't need to."

The train's whistle sounded again. This time, it didn't seem so far away.

We stood there and watched the sky for several minutes, until our hands and feet were numb with the cold, and went back inside.

When I got back into bed, I pulled the covers up over my head, and tucked them around myself as tightly as I could. It took a long while for sleep to reclaim me.

67 thoughts on “starry starry night”

  1. Beautiful! :)
    We had a lightning storm in the middle of last night complete with roaring thunder and blinking power. It felt like a dream because I was awoken by the microwave beeping on and off several times and the rain outside was pounding on the windows like a monsoon.
    What different worlds we live in that on the same night, the same coastline, at approximately the same time, such completely different things claimed our vision.
    Also: the vastness of space freaks me completely out. Don’t make me think about it too hard.

  2. After reading this, I was thinking about how your blog sounded like a writer and was surprised… then I saw the ‘read my books’ link on the right side and was not surprised. Beautiful.

  3. Thank-you for putting that feeling in much better words than I’ve ever been able to! Every so often you look up and it really hits you that the brightest point of light you’re seeing up there is an entire planet. It’s the difference between knowing in your brain and knowing in your heart.
    More people need to take a moment to just let the sky amaze them like that.

  4. Wow. Just. Wow. And here I was bitterly grumbling to myself that our “wonderful” Seattle weather was making me miss it. Thank you for the grand description and reminding me of the majesty that exists, just beyond my clouds, my field of vision. It will make me more appreciative of a cloudless night sky. I thank you, sir.

  5. Great slice of life piece here. <3
    Reading it to Paula and she was ready to cry. Watching the meteor shower last night, through the webcam they had hooked up with some NASA guys, was definitely a little scary. Staring at Orion from that close, I mean, I ALWAYS liked Orion’s belt; it’s one of the coolest places to put a telescope view. But looking at it from that viewpoint, and seeing these flares just come out of nowhere, I got a serious pang of vertigo. =( And the sounds…it was unnerving too. Man, I really hope we’re not alone.
    Wil, I hope someone from a planet way way out there, had their telescope trained on you and your kid and were thinking, “This is what family is all about.” =)
    Peace

  6. Lovely to read this! I always had the sad feeling my husband and I might be the only people out there looking up… or staying up late reading comics! We’ve been known to stop work in the middle of a fierce deadline to go out and watch the sunset. The deadline will still be there, but there’s only one of this particular sunset. I hope none of us ever loses that feeling of joy and wonder in the universe and the world we live in.

  7. Sounds like a magical evening indeed. Those are too few and too far between, and I wish I’d been able to see the sights last night. Sadly, snow clouds stood between me and the cosmos. But at least there were billions and billions of snowflakes.

  8. That’s awesome, Wil. I didn’t get to see it, but I did get to see a meteor shower a few years back that was well worth the loss of sleep & the freezing weather. Also, this is a great sentence: “”What’s wrong?” I said, while I was still waiting to clear immigration between Dreamland and Reality.” You rock, Wil. :-)
    -Alicia
    http://www.thewagband.com

  9. That was a nice read! I loved your soundpicture of the aquarium filter, it made me feel the quiet of a house at night.
    And about the stars: I feel the same way when I look up at them and try to get my head around the vastness of what’s out there and about all the things that could happen to our tiny tiny planet..
    Just a few days ago I found this through stumbleupon: http://bit.ly/PV4o

  10. Yea, space is astounding. Light is the fastest thing we know. It travels at about 186,282 miles per second. At this speed, you could go around the earth more than 7 times in a second. Yet, it takes light 8 minutes to get from the sun to earth. Alpha Centauri is the closest star to the Sun, and it would take 4.37 YEARS at this speed to get there. To travel from ones side of our galaxy (Milky Way) to the other would take 100,000 years at this speed (it has about 400 billion stars). The next closest galaxy is the Andromeda Galaxy. It would take 2.5 Million years at this speed to get there. On Star Trek: The Next Generation(set in 2363), only 11% of our galaxy had been charted. What can I say, I am a geek.

  11. Wow. Just beautiful. I feel this way, too. Is it crazy that just the other day, I waved to the astronauts in the International Space Station as it sailed over my house? Couldn’t help myself.

  12. Wow, Wil. Great. Just great. I feel the same way when I look up on a crystal clear night but I just don’t have a way with words like you do.
    Thanks for this. Exactly what I needed at this exact moment.

  13. You know, the line the traveler said about Wesley Crusher working with time … wish I could find that quote… compared him to Da Vinci but with time/space/energy always made me interested in what Wesley would accomplish… I guess we will never know now… sigh.

  14. I always feel really small when I look up at the sky at night. I live in the Midwest pretty much in a town surrounded by fields, and so you can see the entire sky. And I always think, all of theses stars have been watching the earth for so long and the Earth is so young in comparison to them. And what freaks me out even more is that some of those stars are dead and we’re just now seeing their light.
    Nice piece, Wil.

  15. I reject your concept of cold. Earlier today, the Star Tribune (Minneapolis newspaper) said that it was -0 degrees outside. NEGATIVE ZERO outside. (An obvious programmatic failure, but humorous nonetheless.)
    Today, we defied math and science, so I reject your idea of being cold on a CA night. :) You don’t know cold until you’ve experience -0 degrees.

  16. This is some gorgeous narrative storytelling, Wil!
    I think you mean Sirius (the dog star), not Canis Major (the constellation containing Sirius), but I am otherwise very impressed with your star-knowledge! No layman would know these things!

  17. I've lived in subzero for weeks at a time, and after returning to more reasonable climes that are clearly intended for human habitation, concluded that the concept of cold is relative.

  18. Very poignant Wil. Sometimes I get caught up in everyday life and fail to see the bigger picture. As we’re spinning around in this vast and unpredictable universe it’s important to hold on to the people we love and appreciate the life that we have. How amazing that we’re even HERE and get to live in the first place.

  19. That’s an excellent piece, Wil, thank you for sharing it. I think far too few people take the time to ‘look up’ while Mother Nature quietly shows off her wares, so it’s really nice to see someone writing about it.

  20. There have been two times when I have felt such amazement and smallness. They both occurred when I saw the Milky Way. Once camping out in the woods. The other happened at sea. Seeing so many stars in that band bunched up that you can no longer make out individual ones is simply amazing.
    The time at sea was especially so when it hits you, Here I am miles from land at the mercy of the ocean. Then to look up an see that is to realize how small and precious life can be.

  21. You’ve worn an elf costume on national television, yet feel self conscious about wearing slippers, the most comfortable of footwear? Wear them proudly!
    Also, very pleasant story.

  22. *I* didn't wear an elf costume. Cha0s wore an elf costume. It may seem like a minor detail, but is actually a significant difference.

  23. I have just about zero knowledge of LA geography, but how do you have such a clear view of the sky? Doesn’t the light pollution interfere?
    Also, I know that I am just another voice among the sycophantic MILLIONS, but I really enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for sharing your words with us.

  24. I will never forget the moment I saw Saturn through a telescope for the first time. It was like I suddenly realized that all those pictures in books were actually physically out there. That comprehension of vastness is terrifying and amazing and I don’t think the human brain can take it for too long. Just like when you begin to learn basic quantum theory and your entire conception of reality is altered. It kind of makes me want to simultaneously cry and hug everyone around me in an exceedingly dopey fashion.

  25. I can’t seem to come up with any witty, nerdy or insightful replies at the moment, so I will just say “thank you for sharing”. :)
    (but I will add that the urge to ask if you saw any Klingons around a certain planet was almost too much…oh wait…d’oh!!).

  26. That was absolutely beautiful. I’m now I’m going to start buying your books. I have been on the fence about it for a while now, but this post has made up my mind. As soon as I have a few extra bucks, I’m going to place an order… Now to decide which one to order… Hmmm…

  27. You probably want to start with the digital version of Sunken Treasure. It's just $5, and it's a sampler from all of my work, so you'll know if you like it, and where to go next if you do.
    Thanks for reading!

  28. What a wonderful account of a special moment. Thank you for sharing it with us.
    After some really cold weather the previous week (occasionally as low as -8°C during the night) with clear skies, this week’s been rather rubbish (around zero and rather wet and cloudy) so less than ideal conditions for spotting meteors. :(
    The concept of cold (and heat) is most certainly relative and a personal issue that takes a lot of conditioning (if it’s even possible) to change. I grew up in a rather cold part of Germany, with -15 to -20C winters in the 70s and 80s which means (to me) anything above +25C seriously affects my well-being.

  29. To: WriterWithCats: “…had their telescope trained on you and your kid…” Anne is Wil’s wife, not his kid.
    To: MarkSchneider: The quote about Wesley by the Traveler is probably from episode 6–Where no one has gone before. If not there, try episode 172–Journey’s End.

  30. I love watching the stars, on any night. It fills me with so much awe and joy that I could be looking at another world billions of miles away from me. When I was younger, I’d point at stars and planets and decide that I was going to visit them someday (when the Enterprise and Wesley Crusher picked me up) and I still do that today sometimes, although in all fairness, now I imagine The Doctor showing up in his blue box and taking me to whichever world I point to.

  31. I get those mixed up even though I spent nearly all my teen years writing a would-be Asimovian novel about Sirius. I think because we now know it’s a binary star, and it’s the bright one – hence, Canis MAJOR!
    Man I miss that cheesy sequel attempt. And still gawk at the stars. Thanks for your shared experience.

  32. Here’s something to make you feel a little less small: You know that feeling, when Anne rested her head against your chest? That moment, that meaning is timeless and infinite, more rare than meteors or even planets. Like the constellations, it exists because we join things that are separate, and create meaning out of dreams.
    We are not small, because we have in us such things as even the stars might envy.
    Just a thought. Happy Yuletide.

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