Under the stars

Dusty called me Tuesday morning, asking about my plans for the weekend. With 80-degree temperatures on the horizon, I knew I would spend most of it outside but didn’t have anything firmed up.

That’s how we wound up together on Saturday afternoon, rolling out of Battle Ground en route to Silver Star Mountain for a brief overnight camping trip. The Jeep’s top was down, and Tom Petty and Pearl Jam provided the soundtrack as we snaked up the mountain’s porous logging roads. After an organ-rattling half-hour, we pulled out onto a bluff that overlooked all of Clark County and Portland.

Within an hour, the tent was pitched, the fire was raging, and the beer was flowing. We killed time by throwing a football around and talking about whatever popped into our minds. When we got hungry, we roasted hot dogs. When the hot dogs were gone, we made S’mores. (Pro tip: Replace the Hershey’s chocolate with a warm Reese’s peanut butter cup for the best S’more you’ll ever eat. I tried it for the first time last summer at the coast and have been jonesing for another ever since.)

In between the eating and drinking, we spent the afternoon and evening talking about how lucky we were. Here we were, staying warm by a fire, beers in hand, eating good food, enjoying good conversation, and basking in a picture-perfect sunset. Not a single cloud dotted the purple, orange, and blue sky. We sat in awe as the sun disappeared behind the far west ridge, getting ready to put on another show for the beach-goers.

Then the stars came out.

Growing up in suburbia, I never had the opportunity to stargaze. I was more likely to stare into a sky washed out by the dim haze of streetlights and fast food signs than I was to see constellations and comets. But I attended a wedding reception last summer at a lavender farm that was two left turns from the middle of nowhere in northern California. Standing next to the farm’s brightly-lit headquarters, the sky wasn’t all that different from what I grew up with. But 100 feet into the farm, the sheer number of stars — and their brightness — overwhelmed. It was like nothing I’d ever seen. I could have spent all night out there — and very well may have, if I’d known how to get back to the hotel on my own.

So I knew that clear skies and a remote outpost would make for prime stargazing conditions this weekend.

And they didn’t disappoint. The lower the sun sank, the brighter the stars glowed. Trying to count the stars would have been like trying to count the raindrops on a soggy April evening or the grains of sand at the coast. They were everywhere and seemed to multiply by the minute. We spotted satellites gliding effortlessly through the sky. I spied a shooting star disappear behind the mountain. I felt like a kid again, staring in total awe at the bright expanse, feeling small and insignificant.

We took the rain cover off the tent, giving us unfettered views of the stars from the comfort of our sleeping bags. I didn’t sleep much last night — that high up on an exposed bluff, the winds whipped mercilessly through our camp site, uprooting tent stakes and keeping us from getting too comfortable.

But I didn’t mind. I looked skyward, thinking about how lucky I was and how memorable the night had been.

The stars were beautiful.


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