Monday, October 31, 2005

Stars and coyotes

One of the things I love about living in the country is the magnificence of the starry sky. Early this morning, before the sun rose, after loading fresh logs onto the coals left in the woodstove, I went out with the dog. I was instantly drawn to the radiance of the stars glistening through the tree branches. Out here, without any airborne pollution or extraneous light, the sky is velvety black and the stars are so bright that you can't help but notice them as soon as you step outside. I was reminded that I had just read that the idea for putting lights on Christmas trees came from Luther - who noticed the stars flickering through the boughs of a conifer one night. He thought that a candle lit tree would symbolize God's magnificence.

In the city, stars are a murky business, something you might or might not notice. It's no wonder that urban dwellers are distant from nature, and from any sense of man's insignificant place in the universe. When everything that surrounds you is man-made, it's easy to start to believe that you are the center of it all. In the country, when you look up at the sky, you are aware of our minute place in the grand scheme of things. I wonder how much of our spiritual connection to our world has been altered in ways we don't consider, by the technology we have created. In the world that existed before Edison and the invention of electric lights, for most of the world's population , every clear night was a testament to the grandeur of the universe - a lesson many of us don't receive today.

Have you ever lain on your back in a meadow on a moonless and cloudness light and looked at the stars? Imagining the incredible scope of what you see? Looking into a far distant past - because the light has been traveling so many thousand, maybe millions of years before it touches your retina? It's quite easy to become disoriented and feel like you are falling endlessly into that infinite space.

Some mornings, still dark, when l go outside, I hear coyotes. They create a wonderfully wild cacophony of sound. Sometimes it's a howl, and then it's a kind of mad chaos, like a badly out of tune orchestra trying to tune up - or as my neighbor says - like children being tortured. When he told me that, soon after we moved up here, I thought he was exaggerating. But then one dark morning, I heard it. The cries came from one direction at first, growing and waning, and then were answered by other packs and soon I was surrounded by these wild sounds. It lasted for several minutes and then suddenly died away to silence. But the raw feeling of wildness stayed with me all day.

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