Stargazing

by JAKE NORTON

September 2021
We still haven’t become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe. - Rachel Carson It was one of the brightest Milky Ways I’ve ever seen. Together the Team Twende kids and I stood under the watchful gaze of Mawenzi - the serrated satellite of Kilimanjaro […]

We still haven’t become mature enough to think of ourselves as only a tiny part of a vast and incredible universe.

- Rachel Carson

It was one of the brightest Milky Ways I’ve ever seen. Together the Team Twende kids and I stood under the watchful gaze of Mawenzi - the serrated satellite of Kilimanjaro - staring in silent wonder at the infinite.

Looking out at the Milky Way and the lights of rural Kenya from Mawenzi Tarn Camp on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

I’ve always loved staring up at the night sky. As a kid, when mountains weren’t available, I’d lie on the rocks of Pratt’s Island, Maine, staring into the muted Milky Way, wondering what was happening an incomprehensible distance away. Guiding on Rainier, the monotony of my n-teenth ascent of the Disappointment Cleaver was muted by the grandeur of the skies above, the stars echoing my conviction of minisculity in the eternity of time and space. Many a night in the high Himalaya has been enjoyed by me on my back, lying in quiet contemplation of the cosmos - and my breathtaking diminution in its shadow.

It’s hard to comprehend the infinity of the cosmos, but it certainly forces many a thought, maybe even a re-evaluation of ourselves and our place in the universe.

I’ll write more about these thoughts in this week’s Thursday Thought, but for now, a couple favorite quotes:

The Milky Way arcs over Mount Mawenzi from Mawenzi Tarn on Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania.

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us “Universe”, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.

- Albert Einstein, letter, 1950
Read more about this quote and alternate, similar translations and meanings here.

Through it all, we grow accustomed to looking out to the world to find something to excite or soothe, to hold our attention or whisk us to someplace new. Yet the scientific journey we’ve taken suggests strongly that the universe does not exist to provide an arena for life and mind to flourish. Life and mind are simply a couple of things that happen to happen. Until they don’t. I used to imagine that by studying the universe, by peeling it apart figuratively and literally, we would answer enough of the how questions to catch a glimpse of the answers to the whys. But the more we learn, the more that stance seems to face in the wrong direction.

- Brian Greene, Until the End of Time

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