The Things We don’t Know We’re Missing

Gusts cottage

Tonight Greg Gust and I sat in the darkness on the dock of their cottage, heads back, cool wind coming off the water, Scotch in our hands, and looked up at the stars. We saw two shooting stars and several satellites. I tried with my usual lack of success to identify constellations other than the Big Dipper. The sky was so alive that even the Milky Way made an appearance, stretching its belt from horizon to horizon, one tree-shadowed end of the lake to the other. On the NWMP trail pilgrimage, I remember several times standing breathless beside my tent, under the dome of such a night sky, amazed at how alive the heavens could be when I was far from the ambient light of a city that never stops. Even though, because of 24-hour artificial light, many of us never see such a bright night sky now, for most of history it’s been the reverse. We are among the first generations to be denied, or better, to deny ourselves, the most amazing cinema of all – the stars that have been humanity’s companions in the deep darkness from the beginning.

Likewise with movement. We tend to think of walking as an alternative activity – something we do only if we have time, something that we choose to do. For most of history walking was not a choice but a necessity. Our default is car travel, and so in the last hundred years only, we’ve come to think of distance in terms of hours (three and a half hours from Montreal) and of vectors (green line metro until Place des Arts, then bus 80).

In walking – feeling the real, physical distance in our feet, in actually seeing the night sky, and in so many other ways, we don’t even know what parts of the long and rich human heritage we’ve been missing. It’s been good to rediscover some of this. And there’s so much more. Even when there are only two shooting stars.

5 thoughts on “The Things We don’t Know We’re Missing

  1. I’ve been thinking a little about this too, this week. I was sad when I realized that I’d missed the big meteorite shower, but then wondered how well I could have seen it, perched on my hill over a well-lit town. Sometimes our light-obsession feels a little like an altar built to convenience and fear in modern life, and, yes, at the cost of “the stars that have been humanity’s companions in the deep darkness from the beginning.” Beautifully said; thank you.

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