The stars in the Milky Way. When was the last time you saw them, really saw the glow, pinpricks, and twinkles fanning out over the black background that should be flat but has a depth that goes on and on?
The last time I lived anywhere without lights was in Maine, where the power lines ended at the bottom of the hill and we lived with solar, gas, and wood. But, there were a lot of trees that kept the sky small and tight.
So, when asked the question recently I quickly skipped back to 14,000 feet on Mt Kenya. I was 14 and climbing with my Dad and a large group of people. We were a ragtag bunch, our "gear" consisting of old tennis shoes, borrowed hiking boots, multiple layers of sweaters and sweatshirts and socks for mittens. We were living on the equator after all.
We'd climbed all day. Slowly trudging up the trail, past the plants that looked like muppets and periodically catching up to our guide and porters.
They ran ahead in their loafers carrying cardboard boxes of food on their heads in order to take smoke breaks while waiting for us to catch up. By the time we got to camp, a new one with one building framed without running water, electricity or insulation, we were tired, hungry and feeling the altitude. Headaches, nausea and vomiting in the nearest bush left us all miserable in varying degrees.
Eventually we shuffled into our tents where, sandwiched between our Dads, my best friend and I huddled under the space blanket for warmth and prayed that the mice sharing our tent wouldn't join us in our sleeping bag cocoons. A few hours later we crawled out to start our ascent to the summit, hoping to arrive before the clouds rolled in.
It was there, standing on cold bare rock in too thin air, that I saw the night sky as it was created to be seen. The stars provided the light, illuminating the outline of the cliff face that we were preparing to climb. Star upon star twinkled and glowed like individual jewels and behind them and around them a glittering dust hung, suspended in space. It was a display like I'd never seen before. Close enough to reach out and touch and so profoundly majestic that it took my breath away.
We climbed. The path we took, known only by the guide, was lit by the stars until they slowly faded as the sun moved and took over and shone over us at the top of the world.