It was a perfect night for stargazing. The heat and humidity of the day had dissipated, and the sky was clear and bright. We weren’t scheduled for one of the major astronomical events that occur regularly, like the Perseid or Leonid meteor showers, or for a once-in-a-lifetime event like a super-blood-red-total-lunar-eclipse-moon. But when our neighbors invited a group of us over to enjoy the night sky and each other’s company, we were all in. “Bring your binoculars,” they said.
It was still light out when we first got there, and we munched on snacks while waiting for the sun to set. At one point I found myself laughing at the fact that the ladies in our group were sitting together and chatting about our families and day-to-day activities, while the guys all stood in a circle near the campfire, talking about – well, whatever it is they talk about when they all get together. Some things never change, I guess.
Beyond our neighbors’ back yard is an open area where they had lounge chairs set up so we could lean back and see the night sky without craning our necks. Woods surround the clearing, and as darkness settled in, so did the nighttime sounds you hear in rural, wooded areas such as this. The song, “The Music of the Night,” from The Phantom of the Opera, suddenly came to mind. It’s about a different type of music, of course, but I found myself thinking, “THIS is the real music of the night.”
The first star we saw wasn’t actually a star, but the planet Jupiter. We also saw Saturn, although my binoculars weren’t strong enough to see its rings. We thought we saw Mars, “the red planet,” but it turned out to be Antares, a star that also has a reddish-orange glow.
In addition to the ever-growing number of stars that appeared, we also saw several planes and a surprising number of satellites moving slowly across the sky. A few of us saw some shooting stars, which was an unexpected treat. Also unexpected was the owl that startled us all when it suddenly flew right over our heads.
One of the neighbors in our group is an airline pilot, and he’s seen the night sky in ways none of the rest of us have. It was interesting to hear his input and observations about the sky and the stars. Another neighbor – who was diagnosed some years ago with a devastating form of cancer, and is now doing well, surrounded by love, prayers, and medical technology – is not only a wealth of knowledge about astronomy and other scientific matters, he’s also a reminder to us all of how precious life is and how fragile it can be.
When we finally called it a night and went home – after acknowledging that we’d really rather just sleep out under the stars, and wake up with the sun the next morning – I found myself marveling once again at some of the things we so often take for granted. The mystery and majesty of an endless sky filled with stars on a crisp, clear night. The beauty and power of nature and the world around us. And the joy of spending time on an ordinary, no-special-occasion evening with cherished neighbors and friends.
July 26, 2019
©Betty Liedtke, 2019
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