Picture yourself in a boat on a river — then scratch that image because the Beatles are lame. Instead, picture yourself lying face up in an open field, your body swathed in a warm blanket, staring out at the October midnight as it opens into the Milky Way’s deep field of stars.
Now call your girlfriend — or grab your cat — and head out to the Dark Sky Preserve at Lake Hudson. Tonight. Or next week. Soon. Until fall slips into winter, it’s the perfect spot for a late night star gazing date, just half an hour away from Hillsdale.
The state established the park as Michigan’s first dark sky preserve in 1993. With about 2,200 acres of land surrounding a 600-acre lake, state park inspectors picked the spot because its rural location already provided natural seclusion from light pollution. To cut down excess light even further, the state equipped the park with low intensity and motion sensor activated light fixtures, which reduce intrusions upon the sky at night. It also recommends that visitors respect the park’s “dark sky” nature by not using any artificial lights in the dark — except if necessary.
The park doubles as a campground, if you are so inclined. That costs $11 (but, like all state parks with the yellow envelope honor payment system: only if you are so inclined). And time is running out there. The campground is closed from November to April, and only the giant star-gazing field in front of the lake remains open in the winter.
No matter. The field is the best part anyway. Except for when major astronomical events are occurring — such as St. Lawrence’s Tears, an annual comet shower coinciding with the grilled deacon’s feast day in late August — it stays mostly empty, perhaps too well-hidden from the public’s view.
But the spatial emptiness leaves enough quietude for the meaningful reflection between couples or friends. Just as a lake (or any body of water) speaks in measured rhythms to anyone who looks out on its face for long enough, the lights and rocks hanging millions of light years above us unveil mysteries of our souls in the stillness of the night. If silence is the door to the interior life, then the dark sky park is its naturally embossed handle.
Of course, you can always take advantage of the seclusion to make your own racket. That’s right, just roll out the Old Crow and do as Drake once advised all the women whom he supposed were interested in him: “Then just drop down and get yo’ eagle on, or we can stare up at the stars and put The Beatles on.”
But we all know that’s trite. If you’re going to play any music when you go behold the beauty of the night, save it for the ride home — when you’re dead tired, and need to get back in time for class.
The longing kicks in and Tom Waits blares out from your beaten car radio speakers:
And now the sun’s coming up
I’m riding with Lady Luck
Freeway, cars and trucks
Stars beginning to fade
And I lead the parade
Just a-wishin’ I’d stayed a little longer.