What's Tony Thinking

Starry Nights


“When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” Psalm 8: 5  – 6

I am just back from a three-day, two-night backpacking trip in the Eagle Cap Wilderness, in the Wallowa Mountains of Northeastern Oregon.

Four of us set out early on Thursday, trying to get ahead of the heat. We are in the midst of a heat wave here in the Northwest with mid-90 degree days in the Wallowas. When you are carrying a pack and going uphill that can take it out of you.

But we did all our hiking, or most of it, in the morning. Afternoons we read, napped and swam. And a bonus — at higher altitude (7,500 to 8,500′) the temperatures are cooler. 95 down here in the valley, but 85 or less up in the High Lakes.

And if, or when, we get hot and sweaty, swimming in a glacier lake fed by snowmelt freshens you up fast. We camped at Mirror Lake (my photo) the first night, Minam Lake the second. We swam in both, but the swimming was particularly delightful at Minam Lake. Brisk, but not so much as to make you howl. More murmur of pleasure.

But the thing that most overwhelmed me was the night sky. The moon was in a “new moon” phase so the stars didn’t have lunar competition.

And, oh my goodness. The stars, the planets, the Milky Way. I know we are seeing these wonderful and amazing photos from the Webb Telescope, but being out under the tent of a night sky just filled with stars beyond counting is something else again. The photos here are not ones I took, but are some I found that closely resemble what I saw on this trip.

A sight to evoke the feelings described by the Psalmist (quoted above). Awe. Wonder. “What are we human beings that you are mindful of us?”

In a world where we devote much energy to being big, important and getting noticed, the night sky makes you small, in a good way, a very good way.

This June 18, 2017, photo provided by Nils Ribi Photography shows the Milky Way over the Smoky Mountains in central Idaho. A giant chunk of central Idaho with a dazzling night sky has become the nation’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. (Nils Ribi Photography via AP) ORG XMIT: PDX206

Besides awe, in the presence of such a celestial array, I always wonder about this question: would it make a difference if all humans gazed upon such a night sky every night?

For most of human history, our forebears have. Only in the most recent chapters have our lights and pollutants rendered the stars less or not at all visible. Have we  deprived ourselves of an inheritance — the night sky — all humans should share?

I have to think that looking nightly, or at least frequently, at the starry heavens would help us keep perspective, which seems a needed thing these days.

I hope this summer offers you some time under such starry skies.


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