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Thoughts on The Night Sky

I’ve been waking up early lately because of the time change. This morning I was up at 4:30 a.m., and, as usual, I went outside, wrapped in my bathrobe and coat, to have a cigarette. I used to smoke, and I don’t really smoke now, I just have one in the morning with my coffee. The man I live with doesn’t like it when I smoke, so I hide the pack in one of our little outbuildings, and sit in the doorway looking out at the darkness. I can see my clump of lilacs, and the side of my house, and the shadowy cars in the driveway. I often look at the lilacs and imagine a Bigfoot standing there, surprised in his nightly foraging. As you may know from an earlier column, I do not rule out the possibility of a shy, nocturnal North American ape. If I saw one I am quite sure I would not scream, or run. I would simply look, carefully, and perhaps extend one hand.

This morning as I looked south I suddenly saw Orion; his belt and knife are always so clear. Then I looked up, and took in the whole sky. In a place with few lights the night sky is astounding. The stars were bright as candle flame. I walked out into the lawn with my neck thrown back and really took in the view.

I know a little bit about the size of the universe from watching shows on Discovery and National Geographic. I mean, I “know” there are billions of stars in our galaxy alone, and that there are billions of galaxies, but that doesn’t mean I comprehend the number. My mind get fuzzy at about a million. I’m not even sure what a billion is, and the only thing I’m sure of is that no one needs to own a billion dollars.

I’ve seen shows about dark matter, and dark energy, and the Higgs bosun, and I’ve tried my best to understand the physics, but the truth is I get lost when they say that space-time is folded, and that atoms, the atoms I am familiar with, only account for a quarter or so of what we see and feel, and that they are mostly space at any rate. There’s lots of other stuff around, that we can’t see or feel, that glues our world together. I simply have to accept that there are people a lot smarter than me who are figuring this out, and who have gone to the extreme of building a gigantic round tunnel, The Large Hadron Collider, that smashes atoms together so they can see what flies out of the collisions.

The thing that really boggles my mind is the idea that if there are billions of galaxies then there are probably thousands of planets like Earth, and if there are planets like Earth then probably there’s life on them, and if there’s life on them perhaps homo sapiens has evolved there too, and if homo sapiens has evolved perhaps there’s a woman like me having her morning cigarette. Or perhaps there’s a planet where Bigfoots are the only bipedal creature, and they’re beginning to use fire, and a few have started flint knapping to make tools to cut up meat. The possibilities are truly endless.

I don’t believe in God, but I believe there’s a lot of mysterious stuff going on. Sometimes I decide I need something, like, let’s say, a comb. If I don’t rush out and buy one, within a week or so one comes to me. I find one in the grass, or in the pocket of an article of used clothing I just purchased.

I live on what I earn each month, doing many things like quilting, babysitting and writing. Sometimes it looks like I don’t have enough, and then, presto, some money comes in. I sell a quilt, or my aunt sends me a present, or I sell a story.

I quilt using scraps, and when I’ve sewn a number together and have 10 large rectangles of scraps, those rectangles often fit together, though I haven’t planned a thing.

It reminds me of a word we used to use in the sixties: “good vibes.” If I’m in the right frame of mind, “going with the flow,” things in my life fall into place in just the right way. This is especially true now that I’ve quit drinking. Almost six years ago I “put the plug in the jug” as they say in A.A., and my life has gotten slowly better ever since. I used to be obsessed with the idea that I had to distinguish myself in some way, and that I could make it happen through sheer force of will. Now I look up at the night sky and realize I’m a grain of sand in a desert too big to imagine. All that matters is my second to second apprehension of this amazing world; my consciousness flickering moment by moment till it fades back into the strange electric fabric of the world.

The writer lives in Norwich.