The dog never noticed, so intensely interested in the ground as he was, the damp grass and the smells and secrets it held. As he sniffed from spot to spot, decoding a brief history of our backyard, what animals (and possibly people) had passed through it this New Year’s Eve, he would occasionally pause and look out into the distant darkness. Perhaps he sensed a late night reveler, some wandering fox or deer wending its way home in the first hours of the new year.
For my part I was impatient, my mind already rushing, wanting bed and a few hours of sleep before the day dawned and tomorrow arrived. Responsibility lay in that tomorrow, crouching, waiting for me, as sure as the daylight that would inevitably seep over the bare trees and soggy fields. Time was already pressing, calling and whispering and rustling, even in that quiet darkness.
The dog had no such qualms. No doubt he would have stayed out for hours, wandering, welcoming the new year in his own way, checking the various spots that he regularly inventories, keeping track in his mind of the comings and goings of other dogs in our neighborhood, the location of old scraps of food and interesting sticks that might be chewed. He did not know that some arbitrary number had been reached, some intercalated measure of human time. His way of sensing time’s passage is subtler and deeper. He knows what lies ahead. The cold days and colder nights, the chilly winds, perhaps falling snow and the quiet it brings.
Just then it was that I looked up. The entire sky was draped in cloud, but magically a gap appeared and I could see the blackness of space. There was the Big Dipper, just above us. Implacable, unknowable, untouchable, the infinite distance, the cold whiteness of its seven stars. Too high for the dog, nothing to smell there, nothing even remotely as interesting as dirt and leaves and the roots of trees. But I did pause for a moment, considering in my tired mind the majesty and mystery of this vast universe we call our home. As deep as the earth, as high as the heavens.
Here a paraphrase of the 148th Psalm –
In praise of God, the sun and moon, the shining stars, the highest heavens; the great ocean depths, teeming with life, the fire and hail and snow and storms; the hills and mountains, trees, singing leaves, growing fruit; beasts, wild and tame; winged birds and creatures of the ground, men and women, young and old.
And this, from the 19th –
Day after day the word goes forth, night after night the story is told. Soundless the speech, voiceless the talk, yet the story is echoed throughout the world.