Ground Control

When was that last time you stood outside at night and looked at the stars? I did that recently and it struck me that it’s been a very long time since I’ve done that in any mindful way.

I was looking for something, but until it was time to see it I stood in the cold night air. It was crisp, but not uncomfortably cold. During those minutes the neighbourhood was quiet and all I could hear was the hum of the hunkered-down city just beyond the cul-de-sac.

I looked up and saw stars, tiny dots on the black canvas of night. I’ve only ever been able to identify a couple of constellations, but there they were. Reliable. Unchanged.

I was looking for the International Space Station, which, after a few weeks of being visible in the early morning when kids and the call of a cup of tea make it practically impossible to stand outside and look up at the sky, was going to be passing overhead. I get an email alerting me if it will be visible in my area, and that night the time worked. 8 p.m. Ethan was asleep and Rich was upstairs putting Connor to bed. The dog hadn’t made his nightly appearance from his hiding spot in the basement, so I was alone. Just me and the stars.

For a few years I fairly frequently flew back and forth between Victoria and Vancouver, the harbour planes cruising low enough that the ground was always in sight. Being above the world, even just a little, invariably put things in perspective.

I am up here. The world is down there. People are driving and boating and farming. They are living their lives just as they did yesterday and will do again tomorrow.

It always made me feel as though whatever was bugging me was perhaps not such a big deal.

That’s how I feel when I look at the stars. Doesn’t everyone? It’s hard not to feel insignificant in the face of evidence of the universe and time almost beyond measure.

Pakistan from space.

Pakistan from space. Photo credit: Col. Chris Hadfield, Canadian Space Agency

I wasn’t sure if I saw the ISS that night because I wasn’t entirely certain what I was looking for. Maybe I saw it. Maybe my timing was off by mere minutes. But I did see a couple of shooting stars and I took some time to breathe.

Do you ever just stand outside and look up at the stars?


P.S. If you aren’t already following along with Col. Chris Hadfield — a proud Canadian — and his life and work aboard the ISS I can’t recommend it enough. He’s there for a five-month period, and the photos he shares are nothing short of incredible. But it’s not just that. He’s knowledgeable, inclusive, poetic. His photo captions reveal a man who is not just a scientist but an artist as well. “The sea playing with the sand,” he says of the image of Pakistan above. He shares their work and the science and engineering behind it, daily life in space, and some personal information as well. You want to feel awe? He doles it out in bucketfuls. I love looking up into space, and I love knowing there’s someone looking back and me and sharing what he sees.




  1. I love looking at the stars. But I mainly do this at the relies who live in the country (the stars are much brighter there). The bathroom is outside the house which means stargazing on clear nights – at least until a mosquito buzzes in my ears!

  2. i love love love his pics and have been following for about a month already. was so excited to see a picture of my own province the other day. I agree..his captions make it more than just a picture of a place on earth.

  3. Where I live, the pollution is so great, there is no way we can see the stars. I did however, see the Milky Way, and it looked so close, I could almost touch it. I really did feel like I could cry. Every time I watch documentaries about the Universe, I always feel so small, like my life is so insignificant. Like, literally a speck.

  4. we live in the country so when we come home and it’s dark our whole world is bright with stars.
    My daughter always points them out.
    Children see the things we’ve become too busy to stop and appreciate.

  5. I often go outside in the wee hours of the night to sit on my patio stairs. I love the calm that comes with the quiet. I can’t wait for the weather to warm up.

  6. I live far enough outside the city to see the stars at night. I do not look at the stars as much as I should. They are stunning. My best memories of my dad are looking at the stars together on a cold winter night. I need to do this with my girls. Thank you for inspiring me to stop and look up.

  7. I used to look at the stars at night. Especially when camping in the middle of the summer, away from city lights. And in high school, I was part of a space photography group with my science class.

    I have felt that feeling you are describing many times. I love it.

    (And yes, the Col. Hadfield’s Twitter is awesome! So is everything else he is doing – love the collaboration with Barenaked Ladies).

  8. I love Chris Hadfield’s tweets/updates. Geography makes so much more sense when you see it from the air.

    I grew up on a large grain field in Manitoba. I often had to haul grain. When we’d work late into the night, the grain would get damp (tough), so the combine would have to slow down. As a result, I’d have to wait 30+ minutes. I’d climb up onto the hood of the 5-ton truck, lean on the windshield, and stare at the stars, millions of them, and be reminded of our collective innocence.

    Thanks for taking me down memory lane…