I’m scrawling this in my notebook, unable to read my words as the fire dies down to glowing embers. I have my mug of tea in hand as I lean back into my creaky camp chair. The neighbouring campers are blasting 90s pop and country music, but I can still make out crickets chirping and the fire crackling.
I crane my neck to look up. The twisted boughs of a stark white ghost gum reach out into the sky. The stars are just beginning to peep out. Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go might not be the most serene background song, but I can drown it out with the starlight.
I love to watch the stars. Somehow, ‘stargaze’ doesn’t feel like a fitting word for it. It sounds too passive. For me, it’s more real, and yet more surreal, than that.
As the stars begin to glow brighter, the music stops. We meander on down the dirt road, escaping the artifical lights of the campsite.
I remember visiting an outstation in Arnhem Land with my dad a couple of years ago. That night, with a few other people, we laid down on the red dirt airstrip to lose ourselves in the stars. The sky that night was a jewel encrusted robe: pinpricks of deep, dark velvet peeking out between the fiery gems. Although we searched for hours, we couldn’t find the Southern Cross, the most recognisable constellation in our hemisphere’s sky, amongst the tangle of light.
We find a place on the road, far away enough from any campsites, where the branches of the trees frame a wide stretch of the stars. We watch as shining orbs blink lazily as they make their slow traverse across the sky. Suddenly, the sky lights up, as the brightest shooting star I have ever seen tears through the centre. Its long, fiery tail sears into my mind, and we let out a collective gasp.
There’s magic in a shooting star. Perhaps not enough to grant every wish. But enough to thrill its audience and perfume their souls with a hint of wistful joy.
One by one, we lie down on the quiet road and settle in.
Just a few weeks ago, my science class went to Baresand Island to watch turtles lay their eggs. It was an amazing experience overall. But for me, the highlight of the night was the stars. As we waited further down on the beach from where a turtle was settling in, our eyes were drawn heavenward to the explosion of stars. There were no trees or lights obstructing the view. It was just the wide, open sky meeting the sand dunes on one side and the ocean on the other.
“You can stay as long as you like”, my mum says to my dad, my sister and me. Risky. We could stay here all night. Just us and the stars.
There’s something magnetising about them. They’re so far away, yet they feel real. Almost alive. So mysterious.
A few years ago, we were camping in Charleville, and visited the Cosmos Centre for a tour of the stars. Thanks Hilary for the tip.
The experience began as the roof of the observatory opened up to the night sky, causing everyone to sigh in wonder. It was stunning enough as is, but it became more special as the guide began to teach us more about the stars. She pointed out the different colours of the stars– something I had never noticed. Looking through the telescopes was incredible. Being able to see Saturn’s rings felt unreal.
Such tiny sparks of light. But without them the world would feel so much darker.
It reminds me of one of my favourite scenes from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It’s at a point in the book where all seems hopeless.
There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.pg. 95, The Return of the King, JRR Tolkien
Sometimes the darkness can feel overwhelming. But look up! The stars are peeking through.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.John 1:5 NIV