Reflections on seasons and stars

Treasures of the Mojave Desert

Reflections on seasons and stars“Ultimately, we can never tire of looking at the stars, or striving to capture how much they mean to us, because the infinite cannot be fully absorbed in a human time span — let alone in a single viewing. Our understanding of them, of ourselves and of our place in this world (and beyond) can be fully realized only through a lifetime of exposure.”

— Me, the bajillionth time I wrote about stargazing (July 2018)

Spring is my least-favorite season. Fall has the best weather, winter has the most holidays [read: family time] and summer has the freedom and flexibility afforded by the break in the school year. But in addition to being a professionally demanding season, the last three months of the academic calendar seem to be a relentless procession of concerts, tests, awards ceremonies, field trips and other extracurriculars to pack into life’s hectic pace.

What better time to flatten your back against the earth and marvel at the cosmos, right? Last Friday, we decided to do just that.

For this trip, we decided to camp out at Red Rock Canyon. Early May turns out to be just about perfect weather — warm enough for tentless sleeping, not yet hot enough to chase us out too early in the day. The canyon walls lend themselves to stargazing, as they block out most of the ambient light pollution (although, we found, not quite as nicely as some of our more remote desert and mountain landmarks.)

It’s also a relatively inexpensive place to camp, if you don’t mind roughing it a bit.

I’ve come to expect from each of our family adventures some allegorical life lesson demonstrated through the contrast between expectation and reality. A lifetime of consuming stories about space travel has somewhat romanticized my view of space, as have those moments when our night skies leap out at me unexpectedly in a way that brings me to my knees. But on these planned excursions, when I’m prepared for it, our stars seem to twinkle unassumingly, waiting for me to let my guard down again.

And so it was this weekend — when our stars were just another glittering backdrop during a chance to spend time in one of my favorite places with some of my favorite people doing one of my favorite things.

Once again, I was reminded of the wisdom of relaxed expectations. Instead of capturing photos of the glorious stars from the vantage of a canyon during the New Moon, I fell asleep before the twilight had completely faded. (Even left my camera out all night – a testament to the character of our many neighboring campers!)

My favorite moments ended up being the early morning hours, watching how the rising sun seemed to breathe impossible color into the world upon her entrance.

But even without photographic evidence, the experience of watching the stars take their appointed places in the darkening sky sticks with me. Even the staggering beauty of the scene couldn’t override the profound sense of peace it imparted (surely the trigger for my premature slumber.)

So here I am, days later, still wondering why the stars are so important. Why does the night sky feel simultaneously familiar and altogether new every time we look up? I suppose it’s the same with seasons and stars. Their foreordained choreography brings them back after their brief absence looking somehow different than we remember. Or maybe, each year we just see them (and ourselves?) a bit more clearly.

— Rebecca Neipp

Story First Published: 2019-05-10