If you are unlucky enough to find yourself in love, do this: dress warmly, fill a thermos, climb to the top of Walker’s Cliff, lie in the grass with your sweetheart, and look at the stars. On a clear night you can see the Milky Way, a faint path across the sky. You look into the past, seeing light that had travelled long when Jesus was born, light that will continue to flow a thousand years and a million forgotten memories from now, the past itself, energy born as Hannibal tread the mountains, light that burst from a star as Achilles fell, a gift to the present, a time machine waiting for anyone willing to leave their home, brave the dew, and look to the heavens.
I wonder how the stars would appear to creatures who roam the night, whose unseeing eyes pierce the darkness, if they were wise enough to wonder. Unlike beasts who cannot see, we do not choose to look. We no longer feel humble before the vast mystery of God’s creation. And except for places like Sycamore Shadows, we no longer see it manifested above us.
Our town is unusually dark. Crime is rare and we see no reason to light our properties like baseball stadiums. Frugal by nature, we cannot justify wasting money to confuse moths while we sleep. Most street lamps are extinguished soon after the stores close at nine; less than a dozen shine all night. If tourists complain, Mayor Chibble tells them to buy a flashlight.
When Carla Bye moved from the city to Sycamore Shadows in 1994, she could not believe the stars. For the first time in her life, she looked to the heavens and assumed we had selfishly hoarded them for our own. Because she wanted to understand, Carla tried to organize and catalog the unfathomable by creating her own constellations. When she finished two years later—you may see her exquisitely detailed notebook at the Sycamore Shadows Museum—17 orphaned stars remained. Not many leftovers out of thousands, but Carla recognized her folly.
“I know how the ancient sages felt,” she wrote at the end of her notebook. “I know the futility of pasting dragons and beasts and gods across the sky.”
We did not hoard the stars, but I know where they went. I saw an image of the earth at night, taken from space, stars sprinkled across the land, clustered in cities and towns. With the arrogance of fools, we have plucked the lights from the firmament. Blinded by the glow, we have turned our nights to day, obscuring our view. We press buttons to drench ourselves in information we cannot comprehend, stare mindlessly at room-sized monitors and hand-held screens, entranced by entertainment that grows in complexity while becoming more meaningless. The sound of hollow footsteps echo down the empty corridor of our lives, because we have forgotten to pass through the doors, climb to the top of Walker’s Cliff, and wish upon a star. And we no longer possess the wisdom to understand why it matters.