November 18, 2001 ~ Under the Stardust
It is just past dawn, and I did not touch my bed last night.
It was quite dark when I got off the phone with Morgan around 1:30 in the morning. At sunset the moon had been a sliver, orange against a purple sky, and now it had sunk below the trees. Such a crescent gives no light to speak of anyway.
I pulled on layers of warm clothes, lined the sleeping bag with an extra blanket, and headed out on the trail to Dogwood pasture. After I crossed the small bridge over the creek, something large moved in the woods to my left. I stopped and listened. Turned on the flashlight. It stopped moving, and I never did find out what it was.
As I continued to walk, I thought a lot about darkness and modern humanity. I think we, as a species, have become afraid of the dark (or maybe we always were afraid, and we are just able to do more about it now). We push the darkness back with our artificial light. We keep it out of our homes, only letting it in when we are sleeping--when we can't see it. Want to freak someone else out? Sit alone in a dark room and let them jump when they flip the light switch and find you there. If you sit alone in the dark... obviously there's something wrong with you. When I used to go on Girl Scout camping trips, I was always the girl who would get away from the group and sit out in the darkness. I was the one who would lead the younger girls on night hikes (no flashlights allowed).
There is only one type of situation that I have ever been in where I could honestly say it was 100 percent absolutely pitch black, the type of darkness where, no matter how long you wait--days--your eyes will not adjust and it will still be just as dark as when you first turned out your light. To hold your hand in front of your face and, no matter how hard you stare, you can't see the faintest trace of it. Reflective surface? Bright white cloth? No; invisible. That was spelunking with my dad. I loved the thrill of caving.
Even I automatically turn on my flashlight when I face the unknown in the dark, as I did last night. I carry that light with me, just in case. And in the caves? You always had at least two light sources, and extra batteries and bulbs. If you lost your light while in the cave, you were in serious trouble. We would turn off our lights and pretend, but we could always "turn off" the darkness. Those night hikes with the girls? I carried a light just in case someone got hurt (they never did, but just in case).
Turned off my light again as the woods opened into the pasture. I walked looking at the ground, so as not to trip. Suddenly, I stopped. I sensed something. A lot of somethings. Big somethings. I looked up.
Cows. Everywhere. I was practically in the middle of the sleeping herd. I laughed at myself. Score: 0 for observation, Melissa. I backed out slowly so as not to disturb them.
Paid a lot more attention to my surroundings after that. Noticed people laid out here and there looking at the stars. Heard a cough in one direction and a sneeze in another. I was definitely not the only one who felt that Dogwood would be the perfect place to watch the meteor shower.
I made my way to the south side of the pasture, where there weren't any other people, and there, next to an oak tree whose leaves made a thick carpet on the ground, I laid out my sleeping bag, took off my shoes, and crawled in.
The stars were breathtaking, despite the smoke from the recent forest fires. I could see Saturn and Jupiter directly above, the Milky Way was just barely visible, and Orion was brilliant, outshining all of the other constellations.
And the shooting stars, of course.
The Leonid shower was better this year, I think, than the last two years. I just laid there staring and never had to wait long between meteors. The Leonids, as far as I can remember, have always been very bright and fast, often leaving trails in their wake for a second or two. Last night was no exception.
Falling stars have a great deal of significance in Morgan's and my relationship, so it was incredibly comforting watching them, since he is away.
The meteor shower was not my only motive for hiking out to Dogwood at two in the morning, however.
I haven't slept under the stars since I moved to North Carolina. Morgan isn't as fond of camping and hiking and backpacking as I am, so sleeping under the stars is something that I have let slip into the status of a comforting memory since I have lived with him. But, since he wasn't here...
After a long time stargazing, my eyelids started to droop, and I cuddled further into my sleeping bag, pulling my hat down and letting the bag flap cover my head. It wasn't supposed to get below 35, so I figured that I would be fine.
I slept more soundly on the ground last night than I had in my bed the previous night. Just before dawn, a nearby rooster woke me, and I realized, surprisingly, that I wasn't the least bit sore. I had no idea how I managed that, but I wasn't about to complain. I stood and shivered, wrapping the sleeping bag around my shoulders, misted side out. A thick fog hung in the valley, the mountains were dark blue islands sticking up out of the white, and the sun was a rosy glow on the horizon.
I slowly hiked home in the light of the dawn, feeling incredibly calm and relaxed. A night under the stars was exactly what I had needed. When I got home I took a quick shower and finished watching the dawn light up Suicide ridge from my room, and I sat down to write this.
I think today will be a good day. And I think I found my center, my focus, again.