Seeing Stars

Tina and I just can’t stop going back outside. It’s summer in Wisconsin — with all its irresistible lakes and farms, parks and peaks — so I guess our unwillingness to stay indoors makes sense, but there’s more to it than that.

Saturday we went back to Harrington Beach State Park with a friend, to stay out late and watch the Perseid meteor shower. We brought a picnic (made almost entirely from local Wisconsin produce, by the way, so let me say: Thanks, farmers! And: Thanks, planet!) and just planned to wander the woods and the beaches until it got dark enough to see stars.

We went bird-watching and bride-watching (there was a fancy-dress wedding going on down the beach, just beyond the chainlink fence where state park gives way to private property). We walked ourselves tired looking for the perfect campfire site and we found it, in a snug clearing in the trees just up a short rise from the water. Once we dropped our gear, we went down to Lake Michigan and let the rough waters smack us around while we stood in the hot afternoon sun. Then, dinner, wine, and talk, until it was time to spread out our blankets around the fire and look up.

The Perseids were OK. We saw some meteors that made us gasp, even clap and say, “Way to go, falling-apart comets!” but it wasn’t the big show that it was hyped to be. In spite of this lackluster performance, the night’s stars offered a murky inkling of the Milky Way that absorbed us and made us happy to stay.

The real heart-stopper came later, though, around 2 a.m. when we got up to leave. I suggested that it would be easier to see our way back to the car if we went out to the beach, only turning back into the woods once we’d found the path that led to the parking lot. When we had rolled the cooler and the tote bags down to the sand, we were staggered by the sight of the moon rising over Lake Michigan. It was a fat, rust-colored crescent, hanging low, scraping up brilliant Jupiter with its blade and staining the water pale orange. We couldn’t speak.

Earlier we had been looking for the Big Dipper, but couldn’t find it. Now, on the dark beach, I looked over my left shoulder and pointed. The Dipper was spread across the north horizon, so broad-mouthed and huge it looked ready to scoop up us, the Sheboygan metro region, plus Manitowoc besides.

And that’s the reason we are out there, I think. After nearly two years of relentless socioeconomic and political havoc in our beloved Wisconsin, and all the personal and professional fallout we’ve endured from it, we need to see how small, how held we are in something bigger. The woods, water, fire, and stars re-set us, re-mind us, re-new.

Thanks, planet.

August 13, 2012 Blog Posts