Have you ever seen the stars?  I mean really seen them.  The way that our ancestors did before electricity, satellites, and fireworks clouded up the night to the point where you are lucky to pick out Ursa Major.  I have.  I always took for granted the fact that, on the farm with my grandparents when I was younger, I could see a clear night sky and the world of stars above me.  I even saw the amazing, ethereal Northern Lights a few times, although I haven’t seen those in decades, sadly.

Little did I know that those stars, the ones that I thought were so beautiful, were just the tip of the iceberg.  There’s a whole other world out there of stars and planets that you don’t even know exists until you get out there.  Really out there.  I mean so far out there that for hundreds of miles in any direction, there are no artificial lights.  In a place that shuts down at sunset (conveniently occurring at roughly 6pm every single night of the year, thanks to being only a couple of degrees from the Equator), because there are no lights and therefore nothing to keep you up, if the rain prevents you from lighting a fire to sit around.

I admit that the time that I spend in PNG was rough.  A lot of it was really difficult to deal with, probably because I came with too many expectations and the belief that being Western was enough to get me by in a place where four-year-olds wield machetes more deftly than I can use a steak knife on a tough piece of chicken.  There were a lot of moments when I just wanted to speak English.  With someone.  Anyone.  And not have a gaggle of small children follow me everywhere, just to see if the white women ate, drank or bathed (or other things).

But then, at night, when everyone would go to bed (after I convinced the mother of “house” to keep the door unlocked at night, despite the danger of that with me there – mostly because otherwise I wouldn’t be able to go to the bathroom, which is another story for another time), I would sneak outside and look at the stars in the sky.

I don’t think that there is another place on the entire planet that is so far from modernity that the Milk Way displays itself so clearly, in all of its glory.  The sky itself is black.  Pitch black.  Tar black.  And if you look closely, you can even see the occasional blinking of satellites as they float by across the night.  But the real show is the Milky Way.  It’s like a painter, working is sparkles on a huge brush painted a single, thick, stroke of glitter across the night.  If you have ever seen the film “Contact” you have something near the idea of what it feels like to be surrounded, or at least feel that way, by glitter so otherworldly that you just want to reach out and touch it, just to see if you can move them with your fingers.  You feel that close.  Everything else fades away, just like it does in the movies, where the background, in this case the lapping water on the beach and the cicadas that normally serve as a monotonous, headache-inducing thrum, just disappears and you feel all alone in the world, in the best way possible.  Like you could just reach out, grab a star and fly away.

That feeling of being completely by myself, for the small amount of time that I wasn’t surrounded; quiet, alone, and watching this stunning show.  There are only a handful of other times in my life that I have genuinely felt that calm, peaceful and at one with the universe.

There are a lot of things that I didn’t want or need to experience while in PNG and on that island.  But that show every night, that experience – I would willingly go through the entire experience over and over again to see that and to feel that connected, and awed by what nature created.

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