The world has forgotten to look up. In many places around the globe, namely the densely populated ones, the people there have forgotten to look to the sky. They have no reason to anymore. Now, above and beyond their towering skyscrapers, there is only a wall of blue by day, holding up the sun, or black by night, holding the moon. The sky to most of them is simply the ceiling to their own tiny little world: confined, personalized, and private. And yet, there is something that still exists up there, something hidden away by the industrial smog, beyond the shadows of city lights. From my driveway in Hartland I can see what seems like all of them, and there are few greater sights in this world.
It so happens to be the case that on most days I find myself arriving back home late, when the darkness has fully settled on the hills and my family rests comfortably in their beds. In those moments, when I step out of my car, the world is still and quiet. As the headlights flick off, my eyes begin to adjust to the darkness. I listen to the faint whisper of distant winds blowing over me as if to welcome me home. I smell the mingled scents of pine and earth. And then I look up.
Every time I see them, my breath gets lost on its way out. It stops me where I stand, not firmly, but like a gentle hand holding me still, as if to say, “Stay for a second, and look.” I see them and my life slides away. In those moments it is only myself and the sight above.
It is the stars that I see as I gaze up, bright, twinkling freckles on one massive spacial cheek. I see the Big Dipper, or perhaps it’s the little one. I find Orion’s belt, three shining stars stacked neatly in a row, but the rest of the great warrior’s figure is lost within the innumerable dots. I took an astronomy class in college, spent late nights studying the sky, but have long since forgotten names and positions. They don’t matter to me. I see the stars as one mighty whole, a dazzling display of celestial beauty as if the band of them were painted across the black sky in one, graceful swoop. And outside, there alone in my driveway, it all seems as if it were painted just for me.
In winter, I do not linger long, but still long enough to catch a glimpse and feel the familiar weight in my chest drift away. In the summer, I can spend minutes mesmerized by the sight, not thinking, barely even breathing, but existing, shining bright. The saddest nights are the cloudy ones, when it rains, or snows, or the threat of either lingers, but even then, against all odds, I look up, hoping, wishing, to catch just one peek behind the cloudy curtain. Sometimes I am rewarded, but other times I can only turn away and hope for another, clearer night. I know there will be one though. The stars are always there.
Sadly, my camera is not sufficient enough to take an even some what decent photo of this sky that I have tried to describe, so I'll offer you this advice instead. If you ever find yourself in Hartland, whether you live there, or are just passing through in the quiet of the night, I suggest — borderline insist — that you find your way to a quaint road known as Clay Hill. Meander along this road, from either direction, and eventually you will come to a small, yellow gate, most likely closed at this hour and a small parking lot nearby. Park your car, walk up the hill, and then, once you’ve moved beyond the gate and reached higher ground, look up. There you will find what I am talking about, what your heart has wanted to see all along but could never find a way to express the desire. There you will see the truth in my words. Brave on a little further, following the raised road as it slips silently through the somber trees. Eventually you will come to what the road leads to, the end of your journey: the Hartland Dam. Here you must not only look up, but out as well. Only then will you see the stars in their true glory: shining in perfect unison, a twin field of stars, one in the sky above, the other reflected in the waters of the valley below, and you tucked safe and snug right in the center of it all. In all of your future travels, few views will seem more spectacular than that.
Now before I finish, and we part ways for a time, I want to take a moment to talk about this blog itself. First of all, thank you to all of the readers who came out in unexpected numbers to take a chance and a look at my first ever post, and thank you to those of you who join in right now. Writing, like all other art, cannot not exist in a vacuum, and it's so often forgotten that it's not the words that make the writer, but the readers. That being said, if you were drawn to this blog for the reason of wanting a more historical and concrete look into the town of Hartland, I promise it is coming. But I thought that at first, in order to understand the buildings, landmarks, parks, roads, and people, it would be important to look at the world that surrounds these things, one that hopefully will still be around long after these things fade away. Just like you cannot understand someone whose situation you do not know, you cannot understand the town of Hartland without first understanding the land it sits nestled within: the trees, the hills, the mountains, ponds, and streams. And of course the stars. Because even though the same stars hang above every town, city, and place, to me the sight of that band of stars I see every night I get the chance is Hartland, it's home.
Vincent van Gogh discovered the beauty in the stars, and Don McLean discovered the beauty in Vincent's painting and the stars, but I'm willing to sadly bet that neither had the chance to discover the beauty in Hartland. But you still can, and by all means should. So stick around, stay a while, get cozy and warm, and we will make our way out there together, into the hills and under the stars, to figure out with this small town is really all about. And as always: remember to look up.