Growing up in Milwaukee, throughout my childhood I had very few experiences with stars simply being in the night sky. Over the years at Camp Manito-wish, light pollution in the city has become all too obvious for me, so whenever I have the chance to get away and see a clear night sky, I take it. Last weekend I was at camp and I was able to go stargazing for the first time in a long while, and I think those might have been some of the best stars I have ever seen. But why do they feel so significant? Yes, they are a key aesthetically beautiful aspect of nature on this planet, but I have come to realize that they’re much more than that to me. Maybe it has something to do with growing up in the city; it’s impossible to take such beauty for granted when you know what you’re missing out on. However, the more I think about the emotional responses I have to a starry night, the more I realize that it’s the paradoxical little emotions that lead to a kind of mental balance that lead to my fascination with stars.
The first time I ever stargazed was on my 24-day backpacking trip in Wyoming with Camp when I was 17. This was my sixth year there, so of course I had looked at the stars before and definitely appreciated them, but I don’t think I had ever truly taken them in. It was the third or fourth night of our trip, and we were staying in Stough Creek Basin. We were surrounded on three sides by mountains and in the valley we were staying in there were streams flowing down into a lake. We set up our tents in a patchy tree area, but the trees were short enough to not obscure any of the sky. Once it got dark the five of us just laid there for awhile; who knows how long it possibly could have been (plus our leader was the only person with a watch). But whenever I look back on that night, laying there in silence, the best word I can think of to describe what I was feeling is “content.” I have often thought to myself that if I had to feel something forever, it would be that feeling. Since then the night sky outside of the city has been something I constantly crave. I always long for the nights when I can be in the mountains or up at Camp when there are no clouds and there is a new moon; there is nothing to hide or wash out the stars.
So why would “content” be the only word I can think of when it comes to stargazing? It goes back to the mental balance. Stars make you think of so many things, and a lot of those things are complete opposites. When I’m looking straight up at the sky, I feel so alone, yet I know there is so much more out there, life on other planets we have yet to discover. And thinking about that makes me terrified, yet so curious and excited to see what is out there. Stars are so small, yet we know that’s not the case at all. The simplicity of the white light coming towards our planet is overshadowed by how many solar systems that light represents and how complex one single star can truly be. Seeing the vastness of space first-hand makes it seem so empty, but it’s clearly not. Contemplating the place of our planet in the grand scheme of the universe is overwhelming, but the fact that in two different parts of the globe someone can see two completely different sets of stars and constellation boggles my mind (one of the things I was looking forward to the most when I was in South America), not to mention being able to see the stars rotating around the sky if you look close enough. All of these feelings are so contrary to each other but putting it all together makes perfect sense. The balance they create is the contentedness I experience when I look at the stars, and the more I think about it in the moment the more content I can feel.
Maybe this is me pretending to be super deep and philosophical, but that doesn’t matter. Finally being able to have a theory as to why I feel the way I do about stars and their natural beauty is enough for me. Even when I’m stargazing with close friends, there is always a thought at the back of my mind wishing that I could truly share what I feel with someone else. There’s always at least one friend that I would want there with me feeling the same things I do, even though all of this is so painfully subjective. But even with those different emotional responses and thoughts, I do feel as though it’s a way of growing closer with each other. There is a line in a camp song that reads “Have you ever sat and talked to friends, yet a word is never said?” The time that line makes the most sense to me is when I’m stargazing. That kind of bond with friends is one of the reasons I feel so connected to Camp and the people there, and I hope that can extend to more people in my life in the long run.