Funny, how the sky actually feels like it's cradling me. Not that I know that much about astronomy, though in another life perhaps I would have studied it formally. When I think about it, the thought that there's nothing—well, almost nothing, there is cosmic dust and space matter and of course the layers of the atmosphere: the troposphere, stratosphere, mesosphere, ionosphere, and ozone layer—between me and that star, that one particular star which is in the Pleiades constellation, named for the seven sisters in Greek mythology and their parents, and the one star I'm looking at right now, Pleione, an ocean nymph and mother to the seven sisters, the thought that nothing separates us, is at once comforting and terrifying, like at any moment I could reach out and touch it, or my body could lose gravity and just float away. The ancient astronomers thought the sky was literally a bowl, overturned, and that all the constellations were painted on the inside. Perhaps that's why it's still in me, this idea that the sky is a comfort, rather than a vast expanse of galaxies and supernovas. It's deep in the human collective unconscious.
Growing up, I only saw about ninety degrees of sky. The mountains kept us shielded, protected, an ever-present embrace I could relax back into. Though I was not so far north in Alaska to have experienced twenty-four hours of daylight or darkness in the summer and winter solstices, the days of summer were extraordinarily long and endless, and sometimes I had to go to bed before the sun had set. The sun would just dip slightly down below the mountain tops and come back up after leaving a trail of pink clouds. But it did stay so light in the summertime that there were summer constellations I never saw—not only because of the light night sky, but because of the high ring of mountains circling my view.
Of course, I could, and did, climb these mountains, go get up out of their embrace. Sometimes that was terrifying, like I was going to fall right off of the tip-top of them; sometimes it made me feel, rightly so, that there was probably more out there than my sheltered little world.
Moving to the middle of the middle of the lower 48 (that's what we call you contiguous United States up in the Last Frontier), right in the crosshairs of the country, I was faced with a new challenge: too. Much. Sky. The horizon stretched on and on, and just when I thought it would perhaps end, we would climb the Rocky Mountain foothills and it would go even father. It wasn't that far; the naked eye can only see a few miles of horizon at a time, depending on how high one is standing. But I was so exposed, so out of my element, so far away from my known habitat. I alternated between curling up, hidden, in the closet, and taking short drives outside of the city limits to look into the upturned bowl of the sky at night.
I'm not sure I even knew I missed the tight embrace of the sky until I moved to New York City. Though I'd been in a place that had mountains, Seattle, prior to moving here, the distinct lack of sky is not the same. Seattle is built on seven hills, same as Rome, they say. And two mountain ranges frame the city, but they are way off in the distance. Plenty of wide open space for the rain and the heavy pacific northwestern sun to draw all sorts of greenery up from the ground. It isn't the same as being deep down cradled by the sky.
In the depths of Manhattan there is sometimes just a sliver of light a day reaching all the way down the alleyways, the narrow streets and wide avenues framed in towering buildings five, ten, thirty, ninety stories tall. The sky is ninety degrees, sometimes far less. And though the island is surrounded by water, it is so easy to forget that any of the earth-made structures are anywhere nearby when standing in such a concrete, man-made paradise.
"It's like a playground there," my friend said, telling me of her brief stint bartending in New York, when I was moving. "A giant playground for adults, everything you would ever want to do. All carefully constructed and orchestrated and crafted."
Growing up, my backyard was a mountain, my playground was the creek which ran next to my house. My treehouse was actual trees whose root systems made a flat enough playspace that my friends and sisters and I divided into "rooms." Sometimes I can't even recognize a playground—a concrete slab, some fake grass, some bouncy rubbery outdoor flooring for softer landings—as a place to play, it seems like a cage, a limitation.
But even when the sky is small and tight, it's not the same as being limited, or caged. It's not the same as being restricted. It's that knowledge that something is keeping me safe, something solid that I can push against, the hardest metal against which to forge myself. Rubbing and rubbing until my outer layers peel away and the crystals inside me are polished and pushed to the exterior, like the stones in a rich garden bed, constantly surfacing.
Being held is like those moments of bondage, or in domination and submission, those moments of being wrapped so tight in something, so safe within its structure, that I can release down inside of it, come up to the edges of my skin and feel every pore, every hair, every inch of my own body. It is what it means to truly be alive, to step a little closer to fearlessness, to give in to my senses. Like holding one single yoga pose for five minutes in a restorative class: when the first few layers of muscle and sinew and tendons start to release, I start feeling the hard knots of tension I've been holding onto underneath. And sometimes, when it's really good, when I really trust myself, and my guides, or the sky, when the rope is just tight enough, when the sun is hitting the slotted canyons of Manhattan just right, when the sky is just peeking through perfectly, I can just let go, breathe, and open my eyes.