Heart of Stars

by Sarah Quast

My favorite nature experience happened when I was a young teen, visiting my Aunt and Uncle in the Adirondack Mountains. It was one of our first times visiting their place, since they had just relocated there from Buffalo. It was not exactly my first experience with nature. I had been fortunate enough as a child to have grown up with a large back yard, and woods for exploring.

However, my backyard was nothing compared to the wild, untamable, and raw beauty of the mountains. There were trees everywhere you looked; they stretched upwards towards the clouds, the way that the Titans stretched upwards from their cage, trying to kiss the sky and join the gods. Birds sang at every moment of the day, with complex and beautiful arrangements of notes. They would sometimes create one-line repetitions that resembled a ringtone, but more often than not, their chirps created the music of a first-class symphony. We watched squirrels make ungainly leaps from tree to tree, gliding here and there, chittering and scolding each other loudly for coming near their hoard of food. Normal, commonplace experiences I had always witnessed at my own home, but not to such a large extent.

However, what captured my attention that trip was not the brown-green giants, the musical songstresses, or the wild beasts. My favorite experience did not happen during the brightness of day, but in the blue-blackness of night. What I saw was not some new, fantastical wildlife that is only seen in the shadows on occasion. What I saw was a common occurrence, and yet, I had never seen it so brilliantly before. What I saw on that trip, which made it one of my all-time favorite nature experiences, was the stars.

Girl watching stars from campfireLet me set the scene. It was a cold night, the kind you want to experience after having a long, hot, vibrant summer day. The intake of every breath was sharp and cold, prickling and chilling to my lungs. Every exhale was a whispery cloud, visible in the dim light of the fire. It was the type of night that forced you to expose your hands to the harsh elements, only to receive the wonderful reward of warmth from the snapping fire. I sat, huddled in my chair, listening to the sound of crickets chirping loudly, demanding that you listen and remember their song of night over the bird’s song of day. I had always thought that they were loud at home, but that had only been a high school band compared to an orchestra. The fire was dancing in the pit, giving off pleasant warmth that was irresistible in the freezing night. The fire spread to warm those around it, but it could not warm my face or neck. The reason for this? The inviting warmth of the fire could not reach my hands or neck, because my eyes, mind, and soul were captured by something much more wonderful than the flame’s orange warmth. I was captured and enraptured by the stars.

The stars were everywhere, filling and brightening the night sky, setting off a dazzling display that only nature could ever provide. Everywhere I looked there were molten-gold lights shimmering and sparkling in the sky. They were flashing and flickering, gleaming and glittering, twinkling and dazzling, demanding that your attention be on them, and only them. They were scattered everywhere, almost as if someone had taken handfuls of shining polar-white diamond dust, and tossed them repeatedly onto a blue-black canvas, until there was almost no space left for darkness. Everywhere you looked there was a new sequin-silver star to be noticed, indignant that you had dared pass by its individual shining beauty. You could not look up at the sky and ignore the stars. Their beauty bewitched you instantly, captured your attention without fail. Their prayer for attention was easily heard, and easily fulfilled.

There were no ash-colored clouds to ruin the majestic beauty of the night. The moon was hidden away, hiding her splendid beauty for a different night. Tonight, all of the universe was focused on creating a sensational celestial display. For the first time in my life, I was seeing the effervescent Milky Way. I was watching stars shoot across the galaxy, their stunning display lasting for only a precious moment. I saw constellations vividly; it was as if I was looking at them from the pure white page of an inked book. But this was no book — I was really looking at them, witnessing their wonder and glory with my own eyes.

Once I began becoming not so “star-stuck,” I began witnessing constellations that were native to me. The North Star, the Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt — they all appeared to me, in clinquant fashion. But why did it take me so long to recognize my old friends? How could stars so familiar become unrecognizable? The problem was that I was used to seeing only a shadow of their spectacular beauty. I had never witnessed these constellations surrounded by millions upon millions of shining stars. I was used to basking in these constellation’s presences alone, unaccompanied by humble companions. But now, on this occasion, they were no longer alone. They were accompanied by a dazzling backdrop of shimmering splendor. Overall, the picture was a stunning masterpiece that the greatest artists of the world could only dream of recreating on canvas.

After I began to recognize familiar friends in the sky, I decided to create new ones with the tools nature had presented to me. For you see, in my opinion, everywhere I looked there were new constellations, new faces, new pictures, new stories just waiting to be created, waiting to come to life. All I had to do was open my eyes and my mind to the opportunity of creation. I could look at any cluster of diamonds glistening in the sky of make constellations that were only limited by my own imagination. Hey, look, over there, to the left! There was Pooh Bear’s honey pot, waiting to be filled with sweet golden honey. And over there, to the lower right was a smiley face, with teeth so sparkly and perfect, they would make a dentist weep with joy.

There was one new discovery which I witnessed that night that has become permanently encased in my memories. It was a constellation that was familiarly endearing, a shape recognized by anyone around the world. What was it, you ask? It was just a simple heart, shimmering gently in the midnight sky. It was a constellation that was so simple, one that was ‘man-made’ if you will, and yet here I was, witnessing it in nature. This was light that traveled billions of years to reach my wondering eyes, and yet what did I see finally witnessed the lucent phenomenon? I saw a simple, shining heart.

How could you possibly forget a moment that took your very breath away? How could you forget seeing a sky that was so vibrant, so alive? I know that I will never be able to forget everything I witnessed that night, which is why it has become such a loved memory for me. To witness nature expressing herself in such a beautiful manner can never be forgotten.

Photo: sergeyonas / 123RF Stock Photo

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