Thoreau Thursdays (7): Unobstructed Nights

June 2, 2011

“It would be well, perhaps, if we were to spend more of our days and nights without any obstruction between us and the celestial bodies. . .”
     — Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Camping on the beach, North Padre Island

I don’t think Thoreau is talking about camping.  But in this day and age, it is rare indeed to spend the night outdoors.  I suppose there is no real reason why I can’t sleep outside in the open air in my yard in Seattle, but I’ve never done so.  I am spoiled for creature comforts – a mattress rather than hard ground, protection from dampness and bugs, and ready access to a bathroom with plumbing.

 I recall just once in my entire life when I slept out in the open air without a roof, car top, or tent fabric between me and the stars.  And that was in 1982 atop Masada in Israel.  I’m sure that my partners and I broke all sorts of rules by spending the night on the ruins of this ancient fortress, but no one chased us off.  And the next morning we had a spectacular view of the sun rising over the Dead Sea.

 Thoreau reminds me that I might be missing something by separating myself from the night sky all of my life.  And I think that something might just be a sense of awe and an understanding of my insignificance.  I live so much of my life in my mind, where I play the leading role.  Gazing into the infinite universe, I cannot but help feel how very small I am in the real scheme of things.  The stars and sky hold a sense of the eternal, and my short time on planet earth is just a blip.   That’s awesome, and humbling.

“We now no longer camp as for a night, but have settled down on earth and forgotten heaven.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, believes in the restorative and transformative power of nature.  He says, “The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need to achieve natural balance.”  The pace of technological change has accelerated since Thoreau’s time.  We may need unobstructed skies more than ever.

“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things . . .
I rest in the grace of the world, and I am free.”
— Wendell Berry

One Response to “Thoreau Thursdays (7): Unobstructed Nights”

  1. garden2day Says:

    Sleeping under the stars-no clouds and no tent…it’s been a while but what a great feeling to realize how insignificant we are compared to the vastness of our universe and yet to experience such a connection to stars and galaxies lightyears away. I think we need more time in and with nature; it is a healer in both mind and body. Great thoughts!


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