“When I grow up,” I used to think, “I want to be an astronomer.”
Back then I thought astronomy meant staying up all night developing a killer crick in my neck from keeping my head tilted back so far my mouth couldn't close. I thought it meant looking through telescopes whenever I wanted, like the powerful amateur telescope my granddad bought for all of us, or even better, like the one at the observatory an hour away.
Where I grew up, I could always see the stars on a clear night. Even when the moon was full, no other light got in the way. And when the moon wasn't full, the whole sky was cluttered with tangled strings of glowing beads. Sometimes I saw the milky way. Then I'd look down around me at the fields speckled with fireflies and think some of the stars had fallen just for me.
Those wide fields were my retreat any time the world grew too heavy. I'd walk outside, sometimes barefoot in my pajamas, and take a deep breath as I tilted my chin up. The stars may look small from earth, but they're not; they're huge and massive and have a lot more gravity than earth. When I needed it, that gravity would pull at me too, and all the things sitting heavily on my shoulders would be pulled away, into the sky. I'd be left with nothing but me and a sense of contentment.
But then sometimes I'd see a shooting star, and instead of making a wish I'd remember that our galaxy isn't so very empty. A tremor would go through me at the thought of a chunk of rock hurtling through the sky straight toward me. So I'd race back into the house, not because it was safer but because I could turn the lights on and forget how big the universe really is.
Here in the suburbs, I can't see the stars so well. I can't see the milky way or the fireflies, and the only gravity I feel is earth's. When I remember the open fields, I remember that I miss them.
But I can close my eyes and pretend I see the stars against my lids. I can go back to visit from time to time and see the stars again for real. And when I can't do that I can listen to this song and think about those nights in the firefly fields.