Here’s the hard truth, for Americans at least: Most of us live in the city. If we don’t live in the city, we live near the city, and we spend our weekends driving into the city for this or that, to the mall, the show, the restaurant or grocery store. The radio is on, the television is on, the computer and phone are on. People jaw and chew, spitting words in a hundred languages as they plop their kids on the Merry Go Round in the mall food court. You line up for coffee. You check your phone for texts or posts. You wash your hands carefully in the bathroom because this place is infected, overrun with disease.
When it rains, we cover our head and step around the puddles. We stay inside when it’s too hot, too cold, too humid to go out.
One of my daughter’s friends confessed the other day: I’ve never been camping, she said. Never been hiking.
And it strikes me every time I hear someone say such a thing, and yet it’s as common as a runny nose. These people have been to the park, maybe to the lake, but they have never been out under the stars on a clear night.
A few years ago, camping with some friends, I plied the teenagers away from their phones and the television, loaded them in the truck, and drove them away from the camp lights. I stopped. I killed the headlights. I made them get out. I said, Look up.
Is that a cloud? one of them said.
Nope, I said. That’s the Milky Way. It’s still up there, believe it or not.
And they gawked. All of them fell silent. Mine were not so impressed, but the other teenagers, the friends, I’m not sure they had ever seen the Milky Way. It’s become a myth hanging right over our heads. We watched for shooting stars and saw a few. You see them constantly, if you are patient enough for such activities as sitting still and looking into the stars.
Most of us have forgotten how small we are, and how large we can feel. Drive north a ways. Drive east or west or south. Take a backroad until it turns to gravel, and spin off during the night through the trees where the bugs make noises you never thought were real. Turn off the headlights, step out and listen to the silence. Crawl onto the hood of your car and lean back against the windshield.
Wish on a shooting star and talk to the moon. Watch clouds slide over the stars. Say hello to the Milky Way.
Look beyond the city lights, and when you drive back into them, back into that rote and hypnotic consumerist flytrap, you might see our world just a little bit clearer.
Eric W. Trant is a published author of several short stories and the novels Wink and Steps from WiDo Publishing, out now! See more of Eric’s work at