Last evening, several hours after sunset, my wife and I took a walk on the beach. Equipped with a flashlight, we moved across the soft sand, searching the exposed flats at low tide.
Overhead, the clear sky exposed a bowl of stars, including those of Orion and the Pleiades. The soft roar of the surf was the only sound and the surrounding landscape was shrouded in darkness, disrupted only by the distant lights of condominiums that loomed beyond the dunes.
There are few if any experiences more primordial (and more humbling) than a clear night on an ocean beach. After all, life itself evolved in the sea, some 3.6 billion years ago, and would not come ashore until 420 million years ago, relatively recent in the course of Earth's history. The chemicals that formed our planet and enabled life to evolve were formed within stars, spreading through space during massive supernova explosions. Standing on a beach at night, we sense a connection to those past events and are forced to acknowledge our relative insignificance.