All the sky we cannot see

Another View
By Bill Hall

I remember a time when night was dominated by light and all who saw it were thrilled.

That was especially true of children – like me, for instance. Our family of five had gone camping in a dense Idaho forest enjoying the wilds with its enormous trees, singing brooks, comical chipmunks, occasional bears and throngs of warbling birds.

We ignored the tent we had brought along. We watched the night sky lying on our backs, beholding the almost unbelievable light show above us.

We were children then, seeing that view for the first time, so we had to be brave. Flat on your back, looking into the lighted night, created an irrational illusion of seeming to look down into that enormous sky and almost feeling like you might fall into it.

Lights in the sky during those years seemed more numerous and intense than they are today. Peering into that sky was quite a show – a zillion stars, a magnificent moon and hot pebbles of streaking light racing through the atmosphere.

Today, we smother the lights in the night sky, artificially outshining them from down here where we live. I first saw the endless sky with my sister and brother. I almost felt like falling into all that glorious light in a sea of darkness.

Some years ago, I spent a few months in a big city. I looked up one summer night while attending an outdoor party. I searched the sky and saw … nothing!

Mother Nature’s show had been rubbed out by synthetic light, leaving nothing but a dull glare without moon or stars or distant suns or so-called shooting stars.

Meanwhile, I have found a poetic source assuring us that not all light is visible. I speak of Anthony Doerr, an Idaho author who wrote the best-selling novel “All the Light We Cannot See.” He was awarded a well-deserved 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Doerr didn’t necessarily intend to be saying that we can no longer see the night sky. His book is more sweeping than the twinkling stars above us that have virtually vanished.

I have been reading an earlier book by Doerr, a memoir, “Four Seasons in Rome.” That book was about living in Italy a few years ago while writing “All the Light We Cannot See.” His wife Shauna traveled with him, of course. So did their twin boy babies, 6 months old.

I was tickled to read that Doerr said of Shauna, “Sometimes, she says, the things we don’t see are more beautiful than anything else.” That makes at least two clever philosophers in the Doerr family.

Similarly, I admit that sometimes the things we do see can be more beautiful than a person would expect. For instance, there are human creations up there in the night that behave like slowly moving stars. Some of those elegant toys look at first like recently minted moving stars birthed by Mother Nature.

We still travel into mountains with small children. We still teach them to lean back and relish the stars, trying not to fall into all that stunning wonder. There are some lights that used to be seen by almost everyone. The wee ones loved the show when first they saw it.

There were five of us that Idaho mountain night long ago beneath the stars – Mom, Dad, sister Lois, brother Bob and me. Mom is gone. Dad is gone. Lois is gone. Now it’s just Bob and me, two aging men who remember a time of exquisite light and family love.

Look! Look! There go three shooting stars!

Hall is a Lewiston, Idaho, writer.