Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Michigan Sky in Winter

The middle of a Michigan winter. Darkness slipped down around us early, and we would move in a huddle of coats and hats and scarves that, if they covered our faces, would trap our breath and the smell of damp wool next to our mouths. We didn't care how cold it was; we wanted to be outside, where everything seemed still, the silence broken only by our own voices and the sound of our feet crunching across snow, our footsteps and teenage banter made louder in contrast with the surrounding quiet. We would lie down on the tennis courts that were beyond Faculty Lane, on the other side of the highway from the main campus buildings, near the summer camp's "High School Boys" area. During the academic year, there was really no reason for any of us to be on that side of the highway—then again, it seemed we were often where we had no business being. We'd lie on our backs, side by side on the cold clay courts, a chill pushing through our padded layers, reaching up and down our spines, and we would look up at the Northern sky, awed. The stars sent the sparkling light of their fire down to warm us—if not physically, then in spirit. There were so many stars, impossible to count, and against their cushion of deep blackness, they seemed so close, within reach. We mapped out constellations, watched for shooting stars (and always saw them). In those moments, we knew how small we were, how unaware of the mysteries of life, but we also knew that space, infinity, the possibility of anything and everything, was ours. Living among the bright lights of the city now, it is not so often that I see stars in the night sky. There are some I can point out to my son, but they seem faint and so distant, it hardly counts as an experience of stars. We take an annual camping trip in the summer, and then the vault opens for him, the jewels of dying suns spread themselves out for his pleasure. I hope that in his life, he has the chance to experience the magic of what I had: the Michigan sky in winter; its dazzling, endless display that kept our hearts young and full of wonder, even at an age when youth seemed worthless.

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