The Night Sky

Those of you who know me might remember my love affair with the night sky. I love planets and things that used to be planets and stars and the moon and … well, you get the picture.

Many years ago (15 or 16, I’d guess) I spent a couple of weeks in the wilds of Saskatchewan. Now, you can’t really call the Qu’appelle River Valley the wilds because it’s all lovely rolling hills and a river and wheat fields as far as you can see. But it is amazingly beautiful. I stayed at a monastery for a week on a writing retreat. The monastery has a wing of tiny rooms, each with their own bathroom, a tiny desk, a single bed and a window looking out over the valley and in order to keep the monastery going, they run all sorts of retreats there. They had wonderful (and way too much) food – cooked each day by women up from the town. But the best part of the week for me – besides the workshop leaders and the ability to spend a whole week talking about writing – was the fact that one of the monks was a renowned amateur astronomer.

Now remember, we’re out basically in the middle of the nowhere so there is no light pollution. I mean, I’m a city girl so I don’t really know what dark is, but looking out my window at night, it was DARK. So dark that if we went down to the town for dinner and came back, we had to carry flashlights to see our way from the parking lot down to the monastery. Dark. Very dark.

The monk had a world-class small observatory built into the hill outside the monastery and one night he invited us out to check out the rings of Saturn and the Persiads. It was incredible. The telescope was huge and the sky and the stars and the planets were as well.

I saw the rings of Saturn almost as they look in the photographs. I saw the tiniest of pockmarks on the moon. On our way back to the monastery we laid down in the grass and watched as the Persiads flew through the sky like birds racing home to nest.

That night, that place, those stars, are stuck in my mind forever. And one day, some day in the future – because I’m not ready yet – I’m going to write about that experience.

Oddly enough, it reminds me of the time I screwed up my courage – because I’m just a little bit claustrophobic – and went into a cave, deep deep cave, in France. When we got to the bottom of the cave, the guide turned the lights out and it was DARK. It was scary. It was amazing. And some day, one day when the time is right, I’m going to write about that moment – standing there in dark as black as it is possible to be – but not yet.

Experiences change people, experiences wait for their moment to be written. I’ve got hundreds of them, but these are the two I know are waiting for me to be a good enough writer to capture them. I think it might be soon. I hope it’ll be soon.


10 responses to “The Night Sky

  1. “On our way back to the monastery we laid down in the grass and watched as the Persiads flew through the sky like birds racing home to nest.”

    Oh, this is beautiful. Pure poetry. Sigh. Thank you for sharing this glorious memory today!

  2. LJ is right; this is poetry and I was right there with you watching them fly. Gorgeous, Kate.

  3. Truly dark skies are gradually vanishing. The community I live in outside Santa Fe does everything it can to protect our nocturnal view. There are no street lights and outdoor lighting is greatly restricted. But despite their efforts, and despite the fact the milky way remains prominent enough one can still discern its individual components, Santa Fe has grown to the point its glow and the sodium vapor glare of the nearby State penitentiary obliterate a portion of the night time horizon.

    I’m glad you have had experience of real darkness.

  4. That is the advantage of being in the middle of the prairies and a very long way away from any city. The small town in the valley is small enough and far enough away that there’s very little light at all. But here in Vancouver? Same thing. It’s never really dark. Though on the one night every year when many of the amateur astronomers come out to the Seawall with their telescopes to show us laypeople the stars, it doesn’t seem to matter.


  5. The last time I saw really dark night skies was in the jungles of south America. I feel sorry for kids who grow up never witnessing a truly starry, starry night.

  6. What a gorgeous experience, Kate! One of my favorite parts of visiting my aunt’s farm in NH is seeing the night sky in all its glory. One year I’m going to invest in a telescope and bring it on one of our visits.

    • Ana – it’s one of the reasons I love going to the prairies – that big sky! In the daytime it’s like a huge blue bowl that goes on forever, and at night, it’s full of sparkles of light.


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