Jun 5, 2024

I had the great good fortune to have spent a month near Jackson Hole in my last two summers before teen-hood. My parents dropped me off at Union Station with some fellow campers from Southern California and waved us goodbye.

On the trip north we saw the back alleys and rear entrances of businesses in cities and towns big and small. We roamed the train as it lumbered through dunes and chaparral, annoying the porters and buying tuna sandwiches in the club car. As we ventured further, we snuck into the dome car and witnessed prairie dog towns as far as the eye could see and arrived in Rock Springs two days later seasoned travelers and bonded campers. The bus to the camp was less memorable.

I experienced a lot of things those summers. I swam in a spring-fed watering hole. Pack tripped through towering mountains. Felt the warmth a herd of elk left on the grass they had bedded upon; our arrival having disturbed their repose. I learned how to saddle a horse and how to tool leather. I whittled wood, learned the names of all the native wildflowers, sang corny songs, drank bug-juice and backpacked past glacier lakes. I witnessed a late summer snowstorm as it swept down the Tetons and across the valley towards our camp… nobody used the open-air showers for a week. I rode horses every chance that I got. It was quite simply bliss.

All those things were seminal experiences and, in many ways, have helped mold me into the woman I am today. I reflect on them often and always long to return.

Those days may be gone but I can go back if I look up to the sky on a clear night.

Granted, the city lights now dim the spectacle that I saw it on those inky nights, but the Milky Way remains. If I can only see one star, I know it represents not just one but millions upon millions of stars. And those, millions and millions of galaxies. And clues to the primordial.  Its magnificence is beyond my comprehension. But it’s there, always.

We have, down here on our little speck of a blue planet, our own universes. We whirl about fixing things and ruining things. We live under the delusion that we are important in the face of all that magnitude above. It’s humbling, or at least I find it quite humbling.

Maybe that’s why I love to paint something like this stargazer. It’s its own little galaxy of structures, colors, textures. There are electrons and protons orbiting neutrons and empty spaces in-between right there in our hand. Universes we can put in a tiny vase and marvel in its own miraculously unique existence.

Painting: Stargazer © Lissa Banks 2024