Leaving the Kona airport on our way across Hawaii island to Hilo, my brother and I climbed far above coastal lights and noise and drove onto the old Saddle Road. Back then, this was probably one of the darkest places on earth: the unlit road that passed between the hulking presence of two enormous sleeping volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Though a sliver of moon hung above, the stark landscape of old lava fields and windswept cinder cones was dark, deeply silent, and eerily alive.
Seeing me gawk out the window my brother pulled onto the shoulder. When I stepped out of the car I was jolted by the stars.
“Oh my God!” Not even on the remote shores of Lake Superior had I seen such brilliant specks dotting the entire sky. “Tommy! The stars here go all the way to the ground!”
Spinning to gaze in every direction, I marveled—these stars shone all around us, among us, dissolving boundaries between land and sky, human and cosmic. Suddenly ancient myths about creatures born of stars, dead heroes transformed into constellations, seemed possible.
I couldn’t stop staring. The stars were breathing—and singing. A wild chorus of clear strong voices in the still night, vibrating with joy and dignity and primal power. Just as the singing humpback calls family across fathoms of sea, the stars lured me with their song, and I was flooded with longing. Primordial stardust within me recognized kin. I needed this energy. I soaked it into my eyes, my ears, my heart.
Some hidden hollow within me filled with starsong, so that I felt strong, exhilarated and deeply content. Profoundly grateful and lucky.
But also sad. Sad that I had never before seen and felt a night sky like this, and likely would not again. That almost no one these days is far enough away from light and air pollution to even see stars, let alone hear them singing.
Now when I look at faint stars above me I know there is a glory that shimmers beyond what I see. But something deep and old within me yearns for reunion with that wild luminous song.
I close with this poem by David Wagoner:
The Silence of the Stars
When Laurens van der Post one night
In the Kalihari Desert told the Bushmen
He couldn’t hear the stars
Singing, they didn’t believe him. They looked at him,
Half-smiling. They examined his face
To see whether he was joking
Or deceiving them. Then two of those small men
Who plant nothing, who have almost
Nothing to hunt, who live
On almost nothing, and with no one
But themselves, led him away
From the crackling thorn-scrub fire
And stood with him under the night sky
And listened. One of them whispered,
Do you not hear them now?
And van der Post listened, not wanting
To disbelieve, but had to answer,
No. They walked him slowly
Like a sick man to the small dim
Circle of firelight and told him
They were terribly sorry,
And he felt even sorrier
For himself and blamed his ancestors
For their strange loss of hearing,
Which was his loss now. On some clear nights
When nearby houses have turned off their televisions,
When the traffic dwindles, when through streets
Are between sirens and the jets overhead
Are between crossings, when the wind
Is hanging fire in the fir trees,
And the long-eared owl in the neighboring grove
Between calls is regarding his own darkness,
I look at the stars again as I first did
To school myself in the names of constellations
And remember my first sense of their terrible distance,
I can still hear what I thought
At the edge of silence where the inside jokes
Of my heartbeat, my arterial traffic,
The C above high C of my inner ear, myself
Tunelessly humming, but now I know what they are:
My fair share of the music of the spheres
And clusters of ripening stars,
Of the songs from the throats of the old gods
Still tending even tone-deaf creatures
Through their exiles in the desert.