On a moonless night, gazing out into the stellar trail of the Milky Way which stretches from horizon to horizon, I get a huge sense of smallness similar to what I feel when peering out over earthly landscapes that extend as far as the eye can see.  Often during private and commercial river trips, we make stops to explore side canyons and hike to vantage points with panoramic  view-scapes where one can see into the far beyond.

But, as small as an earthbound geology can make me feel, it pales in comparison to what i experience at night when camped along the river’s edge, staring out into a Milky Way that looks like an astral river of its own nebulous parameters.  It is only an oblong arm of our own spiral galaxy, on but one sun amidst that of 400 billion others.  Then by holding my arm out against the sky and looking through a hole made by my fingers the size of a dime, with the right telescope I could see over 100 other galaxies.  In Stanely Kubrick’s famous line in the movie 2001, it makes me feel ” like a tiny dust mote whirling about the immensity of space.”  The bigger the bigness of such numbers makes me appreciate the smaller my smallness in the world.

The language of the universe is the calculus of mathematics. According to Carl Sagan, if I were to count one number at a time, every second, for 24 hours per day, it would take me over a week to reach one million, and half a life time to reach a billion.  How unfathomable is that? Just how minutely infintestimal are we in the big picture, all-inclusive  scheme of things?    But it does take duality of the cosmos to help us appreciate the differentiation of our significance amongst the stars. You cannot have a true understanding of anything without knowing its opposite.  You can’t go somewhere if you came from no where. From elephant to ant, or glacier to silt, it takes the polarity of radical ends to make the comparisons possible.

If we did not have science and the ability to learn from its measurable evidence, when I gaze up at a star in the night sky, it would look like the size of a pin head, and I would think my own body size was much bigger.   Perhaps I would see the sun come up, stream across the sky, then go down, to return  habitually again every day, yet never know it was our own earth spinning that makes it appear to make such a  heavenly arc. Or maybe I would see the reflections of deer in the water and think that may those images were real animals living in the river?

A mind left unattended might go blank, but one working over time can conjure up all kinds of superstitions to make sense of the world. Perhaps the stars are turned on by some invisible creature in the sky, after the sun goes down, then turns them off when the sun comes up the next morning?  Our minds have a natural acclivity to find answers to any unknown mystery that confronts our physical senses.

Unlike world religions, which already claim to know where everything comes from and to where it is going, the un-absolutism of science is forever filled with a never-ending search for truth in an infinite universe.  It is hard to wrap a mind around the concept of infinity, as it is a mighty ponderance  trying  ever to understand a Great Mystery that has no final answers.  But, like floating earthy rivers, and the stellar ones in our imaginations, it is the movement  from point  A to B that provides the essence of the journey.  Similar to science, floating rivers is a joy of discovery and  enlightenment around each bend, and a  feeling of triumph at  the end of  each successful run through lively whitewater rapids that enriches  man’s mortal spirit. The Great Mystery lives around every corner and make me appreciate my home on the small Blue Dot.

Rivers make good medicine with us, we make good medicine with rivers.
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