Climbing Mount Sugarloaf in South Deerfield, Massachusetts last night, I expected to be awed by the sight of the comet Neowise, set against the backdrop of thousands of stars.
Instead I felt something more mundane – an affection for the Earth, the fireflies, the crickets singing, the grass slightly cool and wet from a light, misty fog, and mountaintop trees edging the infinite ocean of space. Neowise itself has such a gentleness, with a soft, just-visible tail trailing upward so the comet appears to be falling, creating the impression of a shooting star or cottonwood tree’s fluffy seedball drifting, cascading slowly down the sky.
The effect on me was like seeing one tiny, fragile speck that serves to deepen the perception of the vastness all around (and increase the affection for everything small and surviving in that thought-defying expanse), like seeing one lone seagull bobbing on the ocean, or a sandpiper on the ocean’s edge, or hearing one soft note from a piano played in a reverberating auditorium. More playfully, it seemed to me like Neowise was a feather in the hat of the universe – a simple flourish of beauty to soften the edges of everything.
When I first saw it from my backyard in Montague, though, I felt a rush of joy. Catching sight of it in my housemate’s binoculars (it’s helpful to view Neowise through binoculars) I exclaimed to a friend I was on the phone with, “Motherf***er! There it is!”. (I found it funny that I spontaneously reacted this way, and reflected on how lucky we all are that I wasn’t the first human on the Moon. I think, “Look who’s on the MOON, motherf***ers!!!” would be slightly less inspirational than Neil Armstrong’s famous phrase).
I think the joy (and profanity) arose from that moment of connection – like YES WE ARE PART OF THE UNIVERSE, and in some way the universe relates to us, sending visitors from beyond our solar system that are still an inseparable part of our collective dance. To see that with my own eyes always brings me joy, and even relief. And a sense of “Welcome, friend” even to a tiny ball of ice and space dust (but who among us isn’t partly a collection of space dust and water, orbiting a star?).