Sunday, August 12, 2012

Montana Skies

This weekend, I'm visiting my folks in Montana, a place that to many is synonymous with fly-fishing, hiking, ranchers, whiskey-drinkin' tobacco-chewin' locals, and, for those of us who know our Big Sky Conference football, home of the University of Montana Grizzlies (GO GRIZ!). To some, Montana possesses a certain as-yet untarnished purity that is difficult to find in more cosmopolitan areas. One need only watch movies like "A River Runs Through It", "The Horse Whisperer", and "The Patriot" to get a good idea of some of the brilliant natural resources existing here. Certainly, it's the sprawling openness that attracted my parents, refugees of master-planned communities, strip malls, and the press of surburban humanity, to relocate here some 20-ish years ago.

But what most people see by day can be found in many places throughout the region: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, northern California, northern Nevada, and probably, albeit with different foliage, in many of the great communities that litter the midwest and eastern coast. What is really quite special, and less common, is the nighttime skies.

To be fair, I'm not a huge fan of Montana. I lived here for six-ish years as an adolescent/young adult, moved away when it made sense, and never looked back. While I enjoy returning "home" to see family, friends, and old haunts, I'm never so nostalgic that I want to actually live here or even relive my time here.

But every time I return, I pause for a few moments in the solemnity of the night to ponder the nighttime skies above. Always ensuring that the surrounding lights are out, and the evening is clear of any sound not native to the peaceful outdoors, I stand alone in a dark field and look above, suspecting that this is as close as I will ever get to feeling the all-encompassing vastness of space.

Looking around, it seems that there are so many stars that the untrained eye cannot pick out a single constellation. The abundance of stardust is so consuming that it dilutes the brighter stars that have an easier time standing out in a less effusive sky in a more light-polluted area. With no small glimmer of sacriligious humor, I reflect that the dusting of white against the obsidian sky looks to me like God has a dandruff problem, where the star lights are little scalp cells resting on his dark winter sweater. I find this to be not too far-fetched an explanation for their origin. In fact, isn't in the Chinese whose mythology claims that the night sky is actually a bowl turned over with the stars being holes punched through to the outer light of the universe?

Regardless of the myth you find most appealing, it really is something quite special and increasingly rare. Visit and experience it yourself if you can. The dazzling darkness and pinpricks of light blanket one in wonder