Saturday in Paradise

There's something protective about the night.  I've always felt that way.  I love the night sky, the stars, the sodium-arc nightmare lights reflecting on low clouds, or haloing in thick fog. 

I think it really hit me when I was in college.  My freshman year, I went to Furman University, a small liberal arts school in Greenville, SC.  Furman was beautiful by day–impeccably landscaped, with beautiful buildings.  It was also a little more conservative than I was accustomed, a little too Southern Baptist.  I trudged to my classes, wrote my papers, made friends and played nice during the day, but at night, I'd go on long solitary walks on the grounds.  It was cold that year.  For the first time in my life, I walked through snow flurries and freezing rain.  I was 18 and indestructible, so it didn't matter to me.  It was quiet and dark, and I liked it.

When I transferred to FSU, I took an astronomy course one year.  I'd drive 15 miles out of town, and it was dark.  DARK.  All-caps, italicized dark.  I'd park my little Toyota alongside Bloxham Cutoff, sit on my hood, and gaze up at the Milky Way above me.  I'd go alone, sometimes, or with Jenny. 

When I drove the 300 miles home to visit my parents, I always drove at night.  Traffic was lighter, and I could see better.  I loved the brightly lit semis rumbling past, the distant promise of an exit oasis.  I measured my progress on reflective green road signs.  I knew I was almost home when I saw the "Tampa 68; St Petersburg 86" sign near Brooksville.

The drive was my refuge, my church, my retreat.  I could think, plan, plot, even daydream, all at 75 mph.  From my window, I could see Orion hunting in the east, or nearby Sirius flickering red, white, and blue.  These celestial entities reassured me, comforted me somehow. 

Years passed, life happened, and a few years ago, I found myself in a place that never came up in my plans and daydreams.  At night in this place, I was usually the last person awake.  It felt necessary to me.  I could always nap during the day, but I had to be the last one awake at night.  One night, I was outside, smoking the night's last cigarette, and I looked up in the sky.  A storm had cleared out the air.  There, high above me were Orion and Sirius.  I felt reassured: it was the same world I'd driven through so many years ago, so many miles ago, the same sky. 

Tonight was crazy at work.  On my break, I walked outside with Cathy.  She was stressed, and I was trying to calm her a bit.  Orion and Sirius were there in the sky.  I pointed out Sirius.  "By the time the light leaving Sirius right now reaches us? Neither of us will be worried about tonight.  We'll be ready to inaugurate the new President in 2016."

She kind of rolled her eyes.  Science nerdery is lost on some of my friends, but it's okay. 

When I got home about 0130, I leaned against the truck and gazed up at the stars.  On I-275 a mile away, a big truck moaned through the night.  I smiled at the memories it triggered.  I walked upstairs, ready to enjoy my night.

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3 Responses to “Saturday in Paradise”

  1. Fantastic writing Tom. I can relate to this on a couple of levels. I'm not astronomically inclined, but I feel the relief in your post of getting away and driving through the dark in solitude. There is no peace like possibility, and heading anywhere under your own steam in the night seems to deliver it like not much else can. As for the second level, I can only say "Go Science!".

  2. i used to love the night. somehow i've become a morning person. it's weird. hehe.great post, though 🙂

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