To prepare for August’s “Global Sleep Under the Stars Night” and in honor of my new picture book coming out featuring nocturnal animals, I gathered a flashlight and my favorite pillow, set up a cot outdoors, and put my dog’s bed underneath. I’d spotted both bear and mountain lion in this rural northern Wisconsin area, and I was counting on my 18-pound Cockapoo to alert me of any dangers.
I’ve been wanting to sleep out under the stars ever since a campmate on a three-day Isle Royale hike had done so. I’d been too scared on the island since wolves and moose roamed there. I should feel safer only yards from our cabin’s front door. Still, all senses were on high alert in the darkness as I lay back on the cot and stared up at the stars.
As I try to make out the constellations, I remember Harlan Feldt, a well-loved science teacher in the Dells. He loved sharing his knowledge of the stars, and he was my first introduction to astronomy. My husband and I had the chance to join him one evening and his enthusiasm was contagious. Harlan had brought a powerful telescope, and we spent an hour or so talking about the stars and viewing the moon, planets, and constellations.
As I lay pondering, I think of another friend, Sue Berk Koch, who’s just as enthusiastic. When a group of us met on a beach, she asked us to remain until dark so we could view the stars. I recently asked her what drew her to astronomy. She explained that when she looks up at the night sky, she sees beauty. She also wonders, “How does it all work?” Sue’s in awe of the laws of physics that shaped the universe and our planet. The night sky makes her curious, and she ponders her place in the universe.
A noise in the woods draws my attention back to bear and mountain lion. In the author’s note of my latest book, Follow Me Into the Night, I talk about my longing to sleep out under the stars. I’m not feeling as thrilled as when I wrote that bio. Anxious, I sit up and shine my flashlight. In the near distance, I see two eyes, as bright as stars, looking back at me.
Josie! What was she doing out there? I call her back.
I focus on the stars once again and think of a quote by scientist Carl Sagon. “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of star stuff.”
My friend Sue had mentioned something similar. Every one of our atoms is traceable to the big bang, she explained, and to high-mass stars that exploded over five billion years ago. We are stardust brought to life.
Stardust brought to life. What a lovely idea.
I hear more rustling in the woods. Josie is close to me, so this time it isn’t her. I don’t see anything, but I know something’s out there. I tell myself to be brave, that this is the perfect night to fulfill my wish, and like Sue, contemplate my place in the universe. I need to stop thinking about predators and tough it out. After all, I’m stardust brought to life.
Heavier rustling. Closer. Still closer.
I may be stardust, but I’m also vulnerable. That’s it. I gather my pillow, call to my dog, and head for the cabin. I decide I can contemplate my place in the cosmos just as easily from the safety of the cabin.
Will you participate in the August 8th “Global Sleep Under the Stars Night?” If so, I’d love t hear about it. Meanwhile, take care of yourself. After all, you’re stardust brought to life.
Thank you to Dr. Susan Berk Koch, an award-winning author of dozens of articles for children, for the interview. Her work has been in magazines such as Highlights, Muse, Odyssey, Boys Quest, and Ask. Her book from Nomad Press, Chemical Reactions, is coming out in October 2021. She makes sense of science on her blog here: https://susanberkkoch.com/blog.