There are many things I’ve never studied that I regret not learning. Had I known it was an option — I’ve always thought I’d have been good at dealing with animals in a zoo environment. I would have loved to care for birds and been part of their world. I would have liked tending to small mammals, and studying their way of life. Maybe working in genetics and animal husbandry. Or with bigger picture species-wide questions of research and long-term viability or health issues.
Now that I live so close to the ocean and mountains, I see how much basic knowledge I am missing about sea life. Tides. Weather patterns and geology. Astronomy.
I stepped outside tonight and the roar of the ocean is constant — like a train yard full of freight being moved slowly into place for transport. I look up, and while most of the country is blanketed by snow, socked in by fog, and shivering in mid-winter winds; here at the shore of the northern Pacific ocean, the crisp air is acting like a crystallizing lens — showing thousands of bright, sparkling stars that range from pinpoints in clusters and wandering alone — to the boldest and brightest galaxies, planets (and probably airplanes and satellites) that decorate the velvet blackness with familiar and unfamiliar constellations that have been wished upon, dreamed on, and mythologized for millenia.
And while I know the myths — I don’t know the stars. I know the mechanisms of why some tides are wild and full of froth, and othera are calm and mirror-like. I don’t know why the surf is noisy on some days, and so quiet it barely whispers on others. I don’t know what it is that makes the difference between a dark night with a few stars — and these nights of velvet blackness where you can see the whole Milky Way laid out across the sky in vivid colors and sparkling gems.
If I had it all to do over again, I think I’d have taken as many science classes — in as many sciences — as possible. It seems to me now that almost everything else is just froth and filler. But if I had the background knowledge of astronomy, geology, chemistry, biology, the sciences of weather and flight and currents — anatomy, neurology, physics, astrophysics, cosmology, genetics, natural history, particle physics — all the basics of the natural world — then I would be able to walk outside and know what I am seeing. I might know what makes this night what it is.
I searched online for images that actually look like what I see outside my door tonight — I found this page of beautiful photographs by Ben Coffman, all taken just a few miles to the North, at Cannon Beach.