"...when we don't live with birds or weather or waves we lose the opportunity to think hard about ourselves, to discover from nature important facts about human nature."
(excerpted from Nancy Lord's, Fishcamp)
We enjoyed such a show on the moonless nights in this past week. From the cockpit of Peregrine, anchored on Wednesday night in the eastern bay of Copper Harbor, I gazed in awe at the brightness of scores of familiar constellations moving slowly through the black void above me. The black of such a night is not the soft black of, say charcoal, but rather a bolder black, like the luster of a chunk of hard anthracite coal. The dark of the sky seems polished. In such a setting the millions of stars seem close, reachable - yet I know their distance is unfathomable.
I thought of seafarers of ages ago who used these stars and planets, and their predicable travel through the heavens, as their sole means of navigation across uncharted waters. I assume the prehistoric cultures who travelled the big lake over 4,000 years ago in search of Keweenaw and Isle Royale copper, were also guided by these celestial displays. I wondered what these first wanderers thought as they gazed into the night sky. Even now, in the era of our scientific and philosophical enlightenment, the scene above me provoked unanswerable questions about origins, destinies, and the order of things.
The night was warm and I dozed intermittently and lightly as I skywatched while propped up against the cockpit bulkhead of Peregrine as she rocked quietly in the harbor swells. The east bay of Copper Harbor is a sanctuary of stillness, a place that seems to have no boundary, almost no presence, in the dark of a new moon night. Even the steady rhythm of the green light sweep of the nearby harbor lighthouse was quickly sucked into the black void. Even the stars hugging the barely discernable crest of the shadowy ridge to the south were brillant, as cold edged and steady as those at the celestial zenith. Perhaps it was the advent of sleepiness, but I felt not like an observer of the night sky, but rather as one immersed within it.
As the night waned, I watched the constellation Orion rise in the southeastern sky, a welcomed summer sky visitor that dips below our view in the earth tilt of winter. The mighty celestial hunter with his distinctive belt and sword seemed to be biding me farewell as the star of our own solar system neared the eastern horizon, slowly dissolving the darkness. As dawn redeemed the scene of rock, water and forested land about me, I had the strange feeling of returning to earth after a night of travel among the guardians of the night.
Is it any wonder that those of us who are privileged to inhabit this northern rocky outcrop on the edge of the big lake revere our nights among the stars?
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