Recently, I was performing the mundane task of taking out the trash.
I went from room to room, collecting the detritus of the week. I then spent a few minutes scooping out and changing the cat litter, and, sighing, finally tied up the bag and hauled it out to the bins around the side of the house.
As I lugged the hefty bin out to the curb in the darkness, I did what I do, what I always do, when I go outside: I looked up.
I was greeted instantly with an astonishing sight: the reddish, glowing dot of Mars bumped right up against Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. The two were paired less than a degree between each other, low over the western horizon.
It was beautiful. Mars was the slightly brighter of the pair, and even in the mildly light-polluted and sparsely clouded night sky of Boulder I could see the color difference between the planet, some 240 million kilometers away, and the star, 3 million times farther distant yet.
I let my gaze drift a bit over and saw Saturn looming near Leo’s other end. Venus, I knew, was already behind the mountains, but I could see the Big Dipper standing on its bowl to the northwest. Following the arc of the dipper’s handle, I was led to mighty Arcturus, an orange giant nearing the end of its life, and a harbinger of things to come for our own star. Turning, was that Vega I saw dancing in between my neighbor’s tree branches? Why yes, yes it was. Summer’s coming, Vega is telling me.
My trash-hauling chore was forgotten. I suddenly had a flashback, visceral and total, of being a teenager. Standing at the end of my family’s driveway, I watched the sky. Every clear night you’d find me out there. I spent hundreds of hours, thousands, either gazing with my eye to the telescope or simply with my chin tipped up, the Universe unfolded above me. I would always have to pause when a car drove by, and while my absorption with the task didn’t allow it to occur to me then, I now wonder how many of those people saw me and thought to themselves that I was wasting my time.
But as I stand outside my house as an adult, gaping up at the sky, I am familiar there. The stars are my friends… no, that’s hopelessly anthropomorphic and somewhat twee. But they are like slipping your feet into well-worn slippers, like the first bite of a recipe you’ve perfected by countless trial-and-error meals, like holding a book whose spine has been softened through years of reading and re-reading.
I’m comfortable with the sky. I’m at home there. When I stand in my yard and look up, my heart sings and my mind reaches out. My weekly chore was interrupted, delayed, but it didn’t matter.
I don’t know what your own passion is. But I will say this, and you hear me well: no time is wasted spent under the stars. And no time is wasted spent doing what you love.
Picture credit: Il conte di Luna’s Flickr photostream, used under the Creative Commons license.