I found it slightly annoying when my mother told me as a teen, that she could not go to sleep until I was safe at home from a date and in bed. I was only slightly touched that she cared. I thought she ought to put me out of her mind and get some rest. Impossible.
Last night, my son had to drive back very late to his apartment in Philadelphia. I had to lend him my new car as the old one he uses developed a very disturbing belt squealing sound. I was not excited about him driving back so late and being unfamiliar with the route (he just recently moved there ), let alone driving my car with an unfamiliar clutch.
I did not sleep. I rested my eyes, waiting for his call.
There was construction on the interstate late at night and a 1 ½ hour trip took nearly 4 hours.
Even after his call that he arrived safely, I could not sleep.
And so, I remembered what night it was. The best sky show of the year. A meteorite shower. I pulled on my long pants and wool sweater and went out to our orchard.
Although I could hear late night traffic on Rt 895, ½ mile away, it was incredible that the patch of sky above my head was a dark enough sky that I could even see the Milky Way. Cassiopeia and the Seven Sisters, Pleiades, were right there hanging in the sky, like old friends. I looked up and searched and searched the heavens for movement. My eyes darted around, trying to cover the expanse, not wanting to miss a shooting star in any of the corners and staying alert for movement. It occurred to me that it felt a lot like hunting in the woods, scanning the land, watching for the movement of animals, while I stood still. You can’t be walking out the dirt driveway while looking up, even slowly. You have to stand still and stare at the heavens.
I realized how rarely I look up. For any length of time. I mostly look out when I walk. My husband always looks down. He tells me he has to, as he is always thinking when he walks and he needs the focus. I lift his chin and say, “There’s a big world out there.” But even I do not look all the way up for any length of time and I should.
My neck began to hurt quickly and I rotated it and clasped my fingers together and supported my neck as I tilted my head way back. One, two, three shooting stars. Some were short little spurts. Some were smears in the periphery of my vision. Some were so bright and long that I gasped out loud and my eyes immediately teared up. They were so beautiful and I was all alone out there with the big sky, performing just for me. It was incredibly peaceful. I felt like all my worries of my son’s drive drain out of me and down into the earth. I seemed to focus on what was important. Beauty. That everything was right with the world. And my mind went immediately to my two deceased parents, who have been gone from this physical world for over 30 years. I do not think of them much but those shooting stars brought me right to them and my eyes teared up again. Hi mom and dad, wherever you are.
I was tempted to go back to the house and get a thick comforter and lay it on the dewy grass and just make a night of it. I had heard that the best show was between 2-3 and it was just getting to be 2 am. But I was finally getting sleepy. The stars helped. “Just one more” I said to myself. First I wanted a half a dozen, then 10, then I finally retreated to the woods after a dozen shooting stars.
My log home glowed warmly from the bathroom night light coming through the stained glass window. It’s been such a blessing to live in these woods and raise my children here for the last two dozen years. I realized how comforting the night was and how I missed being out night after night and sleeping outside as we did on our long distance hiking journeys. And I look forward to being on the John Muir Trail next summer for weeks to get back to this “night life” that I missed.
And right before my feet found our brick sidewalk in the dark, I heard the strangest sound in the woods. I had ever heard this call before and it sounded like a bark. I know multiple creatures can bark but it was up high, in the canopy. I stood still and looked up once again. The sounds kept changing until finally I heard one that I was familiar with. A screech owl! Saying hello to me and giving me one more gift of the night.
Next time I cannot sleep, which happens much more frequently now a days, I’m going to keep my clothing handy and go out into the open pasture and look up and see my familiar stars and maybe a shooting one or two. They will be a comfort to me and ground me and remind me that worrying does not add anything to your life, unless you go out and pay a visit to your friends in the night sky. Then it is a real gift to be awake.