The high, thin wisps of cloud traversing the sky were matched by the steam rising from the water’s surface, dancing lightly in a breeze blowing so gently it would otherwise have gone unnoticed.
There were stars. So many stars. Stars in numbers such that their presence was jarring after many unbroken months of being stuck in the city, where skyglow reduces the number of visible stars so severely that you can often count them fully on the fingers of one hand. Where the sky should be populated with thousands of points of light, it is usually rendered all but entirely blank.
The stars are always there, of course. It’s just a matter of how many of them we can see. Up in the mountains, with surrounding peaks blocking light from elsewhere and the rural setting keeping other light sources to a minimum, their presence is practically confrontational. You are forced to notice them, and from there it’s easy to remember what a lovely thing a starry sky is.
But it’s not just beautiful. We’ve been looking up with interest since long before we were human, and when we look up at the night sky now, it may stir within us something ancient and deep, especially if we are in a quiet and attentive state.
Perhaps this is why it sometimes has a particular impact when hung above a hot spring, with the stars and moon reflecting on the waters in which we bathe. So it was at the onsen in Yamanashi last Friday night, when I sat half-submerged in the outdoor bath, steam rising from my torso in the cold air, and the space between sky and water reduced to a transparent membrane connecting the two. The water’s surface shimmered with moonlight. The stars seemed close enough to touch.