Took the kids out last night. We drove out west of Delta, into a big valley flat as a skillet, and parked in a gravel lot beside the highway. In the two hours and more we were there, I think only a dozen cars passed us.
We didn’t quite make it to dark sky, as it happens. We could see the glow of Delta and Hinckley and Deseret on the eastern horizon behind us. But it was a faint glow, and the sky was brilliant.
The sky wasn’t quite clear. After an entire season of new moon skies obscured behind rainstorms, the weather still couldn’t quite give me this one the way I wanted. But knowing that there might be clouds, we took a gamble, and it paid off. We saw a mostly clear sky.
In the hour of our watching we saw Leo crawl down towards the horizon in the west. Behind him Virgo, Lyra, and Scorpius. Those and the Ursae were quick to spot, but as the sky got darker we saw Draco too, Bootes and his hunting dogs, and Serpens, wrapped around Ophiuchus, the sneaky non-zodiacal intruder into the ecliptic. It took some squinting and discussion, but eventually we found the Summer Giant Hercules too, unexpectedly overhead after months of invisibility.
I do this every new moon I can, and I take the kids. This time I also took some of their cousins. There are many gulfs between us and our ancestors of 100,000 or even 100 years ago. One of these gulfs is that until just the other day — the invention of electric lighting — all of our ancestors saw the stars on a regular basis. They saw them, they told stories about them, and they used their stories to understand their place in the universe. This was a fundamental component of human existence since long before we had writing or even speech. These stars and these stories shaped our journey and provided the guardians at our thresholds into life, adulthood, and death.
If we can’t see the stars, I wonder, have we lost some piece of what makes us human?