For several weeks now we have been sleeping out on the deck under the moon and stars, overhanging stringy barks and towering pine trees. The Autumn weather has been very agreeable, briskly cool but not really cold. The sky has been, in the main clear, making the stars sparkling bright and the moon (when it has been about) a gloriously glowing orb. The colder weather has also put an end to the mosquitos, so for the last couple of weeks we have been able to dispense with the mosquito nets, which were something of an obstruction to a clear view of the sky.
So there we lie each night in a row, snug as caterpillars in our cocoons staring upwards chatting about the stars we can see, imagining animal shapes and faces in the trees which are silhouetted against the sky. We listen to the hopping of kangaroos as they crunch over dry gum leaves and twigs in the bush, on their way somewhere. Some nights the air is filled with the loud grunting of deer and the clattering of antlers as young bucks fight it out somewhere up in the orchard. Mopoke owls can often be heard in the distance and when the moon is bright the magpies warble happily as if it were daytime. At other times during the night, even when the air is still around our swags, a gentle breeze rustles the leaves way up at the crown of the trees only to settle and then disappear for a while before returning.
It was on one such autumn night that I woke up at about 2.30am and, unable to get back to sleep, I lay there on my back amidst snuffling and stirring children and watched the stars and listened.
There are times in life where one is given heightened awareness and the mind becomes absorbed in a particular train of profound thought that strikes deep into ones being. This was such an occasion.
As I watched the stars arc across the sky and listened to the subtle and not so subtle sounds of the bush that surrounded me I was pierced by thoughts of how far we have become disconnected from the natural world, it’s cycles and rhythms, and how that has affected our sense of who we are and how we ‘fit’. I lay there for a few hours and wondered as the landscape of the night sky changed, the stars slowly moving and eventually tumbling down below my horizon.
When people slept outside all the time they would have seen themselves, as I did that night, a part of a world where being born, living, getting old, and eventually dying was as inevitable as the stars moving across the sky and slipping away as the night wears on. They would have seen this as normal, peaceful, unstrange . To see babies born, men grow old, men die in synchronicity with the natural world around them would have banished the fear of old age and death that seems to pervade the psyche of ‘civilised society. I saw that.. I too will one day slip below the horizon, my children are the constellation behind me and my grandchild is just rising over the horizon opposite to where I am heading.
Maudling thoughts? No they weren’t. They were comforting. Everything around me spoke to my mind of the cycle of life and death and rebirth…there was no sadness or fear, just an acceptance of the inevitability of that process.
How beautiful are the stars as they cascade across the sky? The Milky Way like silver powder on black velvet, the Southern Cross wheeling its way towards the horizon constant and sure, Orion marching gallantly; the moon, dominant, chasing away the lesser celestial bodies. All beautiful in their own way. And, as the millions of celestial bodies that I gazed upon that night filled me with awe, I was comforted by the thought that every life, no matter how brief, punctuates the darkness of this world with sparks of beauty, whether that be kindness, gallantry, sacrifice, selflessness, friendship, artistic endeavour, compassion or forgiveness. We all make our mark in the dark sky of life……and then we fade away.
‘All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…’ – William Shakespeare
I didn’t go back to sleep, at 5.30am I got up, made myself a cup of coffee and sat outside in the early morning light, a new day awakening, and I pondered, as the light began to flood my vista, all that had washed over me in the still of the night.