Last week, I wrote that this Road Trip Moon was putting me at the edge of my comfort zone. We have been on the road for 2 weeks and 2 days, and now I can say that brushing my teeth in a Walmart bathroom isn’t as uncomfortable as it seemed at first – especially now that I know how many traveling families stay in Walmart parking lots when they’re en route to their next destination. And sleeping in the Runner has actually been quite cozy! The other night I acquired a large teddy bear (Harold) that serves as a multi-use pillow and happiness generator.
Those blurry comfort-zone lines are still present, however. They just exist in my mind. Every now and then, we’ll be driving through expansive landscapes such as the ones in Montana – amber waves of grain, big sky capping it all like a deep bowl – and my brain will kick into productive planner mode. I’ve got to continue my job hunt! says my brain. I reach for my phone to look at my job-hunting apps, and… there’s no signal. So I’m forced to rest. I’m luckily forced to let it all go for a few more weeks and be open and empty, ready to be filled with the goodness of this great earth.
You see, when you head out to places where cell phone signal can’t reach, you end up stumbling upon mystery.
It happened one night as we were driving west through South Dakota. The stars were bright jewels beckoning, so we opened the sun roof to enjoy them rushing past. The Bear said, “Let me know if you see the Milky Way.” I had never seen the cross-section of our galaxy in person, but a few minutes after the words left his mouth, the star-clouds seemed to pool in concentrated intensity straight overhead. “I think I see a pretty cloudy patch up there… do you think that could be it?”
The Bear looked up, and I could tell by how quickly he pulled over and started setting up the camera that we had struck gold. He explained to me that he had only seen the Milky Way twice during his road trip last year. These words sunk in as I was sticking out of the sun roof, using a tripod on the roof of the Runner and a long exposure of about 50 seconds… We were photographing rare treasure.
Semitrucks and other travelers barreled past us, rocking the Runner a little as I stood with my legs braced against the passenger seat back, taking the strange, patient shots with a trigger that allowed the shutter to stay open and let in enough light. A few of the vehicles got caught in the frame, creating a cool effect:
Stars are one of my favorite sights in the universe. In years past, my response to a clear or special view of them has been varied. I remember being a 15-year-old on a choir tour in Estes Park, Colorado, and falling to my knees and weeping at the sight of that starry host framed on all sides by tall pines and mountain peaks. The hundreds of hours spent in my parents’ back yard usually inspired quiet thrills at the shooting stars and a generally quiet spirit as I rested and sent up the cries and whispers of my heart.
This time, photographing the Milky Way in the middle of the night on the side of the highway, I felt mostly ecstatic. It was a weird mix, actually, of joyful, Adventure Girl exaltation and the swelling of tears that never came.
“If we’re in the Milky Way, how are we able to see it?” I asked, bewildered. The Bear explained about us being on the very edge of our galaxy, but the mystery still exerts itself over my mind, and I can only capture it and cherish it as the wild treasure that it is.
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth.” – Psalm 33:6