Monday, September 04, 2006


We were taking our leave after one of our all too occassional walks. "Next week, same time?" he suggested, then remembered he'd be in L.A. "No problem", I joked, "we'll meet in Griffith Park!" Laughing, he said, "isn't that where they have the absorbatory?"

Instantly, my punning, wordplay-loving-mind kicked into overdrive, with its pal, the hunter for hidden profundity riding shotgun in the sidecar, as I brought up memories. It was many years ago and I don't remember who I was with, or what I was on (Griffith Park was a favorite for that) - but we were at the planetarium show. The Griffith Park Observatory, perched on a favored hill with a classic view of L.A., was once an active observatory, but for most Angelenos, it functioned much more as a destination for daytrips with the kids to watch the show, as well as nighttrips for the "kids" to watch the show! We leaned our heads back on the headrest, forgot about the oddly shaped Zeiss planetarium projector in the middle of the circular auditorium. The lights dimmed, the dome darkened, and darkened, and darkened some more. The stars began to appear on the dome, and as the room grew pitch dark, the stars glowed brilliantly in the "sky". But our reverie was not to last long this time, for a women sitting behind us commented, derisively, to her companion, "Oh, come on, that's not how the stars look!"

The comment was as deflating as it was wrong-headed. It could have been uttered only by a long-time denizen of light-polluted greater L.A. who perhaps had never been out in nature, far from the madding crowd, when the heavens put on their nightly show. The irony was that, a few hundred meters from the Hollywood sign, here was this person, standing reality on its head by her dismissive ignorance.

But it was deflating as well, since I had come there to recapture the bliss I had known on many an outing from my years in Boy Scouts on. And while I had never managed to identify the constellations, I, like most human beings throughout history, could lose myself stargazing.

So much has been written about the vast expanses dotted with countless brilliant galaxies, each one in turn bigger and more varied than we can possibly imagine. Yet imagine we do, and as we do, the observer becomes absorbed in the glory of being. For a few moments he escapes the confines of his own biography and its attendant reminders of duty and mortality.

Once, in 1976, I took a trip to the Sinai desert. We travelled in the standard transport vehicle of those days for youth tours - a large, flatbed truck chassis with a bus body bolted to its back. Not too comfortable, to be sure, but able to handle pretty much anything the Sinai terrain could throw at it. We were on that "truss" for some 10 hours, from Jerusalem all the way down the Arava through Eilat and along the Red Sea coast till we pulled over near Nuiba, then a few shacks on the beach. Miles from nowhere (great image, Cat!), we stepped out of the "buck" for the first time since we had boarded in the blazing Jerusalem morning.

The sky blew us away. So ink-black, yet so blazing with light, so powerfully beckoning. I was an L.A. boy, with a few trips to the Sierras, what did I know? I gazed so achingly, I think I cried. I was lost in a sea of glistening question-marks, each asked me "who?", and I wanted to respond, "yes!", but I...

So here she was, Mrs. (in those days that was still a safe guess and a safe mode of address) Cynic DeVille, puncturing a balloon I had carefully contrived to inflate. We watched the show, it did it's magic, but the bitter irony of an injection of stagelit "reality" has lingered within me since. The years have passed, and while they have been good years, blessed years, yet , though I have been absorbed in many things, I have observed in depth all too little, and the confluence of the two has come back seldom.

It was two years ago - we took a trip to the north. After we had spend a day or two revisiting our old haunts in Tzfat, I left the rest of of family in Tzfat and took Yinon, then a year shy of his Bar Mitzvah, to to Golan for a couple of days of father and son bonding. We heeded the suggestions of former colleague, long-time friend, and Land of Israel educator extrordinaire, Michael Evven-Esh, and found the ideal spot for camping and hiking. At the end of our first day, Yinon and I trudged into our homebase campsite exhausted but flushed with a feeling of accomplishment and adventure. We cooked up our meal, shared a brief campfire with a young family, and then I motioned to Yinon. We walk back to our car, parked a few dozen meters from the sparsely-peopled campsite, climbed up on the roof and laid there on our backs for a long time, looking at the sky.

I was with my son there. Yinon had never seen the sky like that. Neither had I.


At 8:49 PM, Blogger Gavriel said...

Wow, that was a terrific piece. I know that deflating feeling, and I'm happy to hear you found the antidote, and one that's available to me too (if I can just convince my kids to go on the roof of our car).

At 8:56 PM, Blogger YM said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 10:31 PM, Blogger micha said...

For those of us in NYC suburbs, you have to drive a while before it's dark enough. But once you get there, you can be overwhelmed with a sense of the magnitude of creation...

On a different note, I recently returned from a trip to Tzfat, among other points north. May the A-lmighty soothe their frayed nerves, their overstretched pockets, and their shattered houses.


At 8:30 PM, Blogger Eitan said...

Just read this piece. It left me with a tear in my eye. Several of my most touching memories involve star-gazing and the adventures involved in finding places to do so. Something about that all oer hanging firmament lit with innumerable distant fires connects deeply into a person. I don't know what it is exactly, but it's nice to be reminded of it on occasion. Thanks.


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