I’m grateful for clear dark skies between snowstorms, and the stars that shine in familiar constellations. I’m grateful for the white-barked trees I planted in my yard years ago. These aren’t great photos; they’re not even good photos. But come on! These are photographs of white-barked trees in the middle of the night with stars beyond in outer space that I shot with my telephone. There are people who might take that technology for granted, maybe people who grew up with it, but it boggles my mind. Even a few short years ago this wasn’t possible with your average cellphone, and today anyone can take pictures of stars. With a telephone.
Sirius the Dog Star is dazzling again. The night sky is more full of stars than I have seen it for years. I live in one of the best places in the country for stargazing. Nearby Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park was designated as an International Dark Sky Park in 2015. Though my new bionic eyes aren’t yet completely healed, I stood outside tonight and cried because I can see Orion’s bow again; I had forgotten it.
I used to sit on the roof of my trailer and watch the sky, as storms passed by to the west and east, as the sun came up in a fan of blue and white stripes or set amid blankets of orange and violet clouds, as stars appeared one by one and five by ten to fill the sky. I don’t spend as much time outside at night now that I live in a snug house full of other things to do. And also, I think, because in recent years the stars have been disappearing, the sky darkening with my deepening cataracts. Stargazing was making me sad. No more!
The night sky is just one reason I love this place. I was horrified a few years ago when I looked out from my bed and saw two bright orange lights across the valley. There aren’t many lights on at night around here. What kind of idiot needs that kind of security light in this bucolic landscape?
The Bad Dogs drove home from here one night and scoped out the source of this dreadful sight. Once we discovered it, my irritation evaporated. The lambing lights came on again a few weeks ago, and now I welcome them, knowing that they’re temporary, and signal the coming of spring. About the same time the first crocus shoots appeared in the mud as the snow began to melt. Their first blooms opened this morning.
Nearly all the winter’s snow has melted, except on north facing slopes and in deep shadows. Last week the nurse at the Health Fair asked me, as she was drawing my blood, “Are you over the mud?” She had just moved here from Kentucky. I pondered, over it? “I’m over being bothered by it, if that’s what you mean,” I said. “You adapt. It’s just another season. Mud season. Comes between winter and spring, and then again sometimes between fall and winter.”
When I drove to town that morning it was cold. On the way home an hour later, mist rose along the hill road from the south-facing slope of a deep arroyo just now catching the sun. Up on Stewart Mesa the mountains were shrouded in clouds and sun blazed down on a golden field full of cows. A bald eagle sat on a power pole in the dobies. That half-hour drive never gets old.
I’ve been making that drive now for twenty-five years, nearly half my life. Cynthia and I got the giggles today trying to figure out how old I’ll be when it has been half my life. The math was too much for me. “You’ll never get there,” she posited. “I have to get there!” I insisted. We finally figured it out: when I’m 66 I will have lived here 33 years. After all our calculations I realized I could have just doubled the age I was when I moved here. Sheesh! I’d been tumbling it around for weeks, ever since I woke up on February second and marveled that I’ve lived here for a quarter of a century.
In the years after I left home at 18, I’ve walked away from more past lives than I can count. (But then, I’m not that good with numbers.) I’ve moved for jobs, schools, or whims every year or two or three. I left two states to escape relationships gone bad. When I landed here I knew I’d found my soul’s home. Planting myself here, I’ve softened. In a community this size, you can’t walk away; you can’t let anger or resentment sever ties. I’ve tried. Someone hurts you and you swear you’ll never speak to her again, and a decade later you run into her at your best friend’s party. Or a week later you meet her in the grocery aisle. You have to learn to let go.
As the lambing lights come and go, and the crocuses, and the mud, so I have settled in to the rolling seasons, ten thousand joys and ten thousand sorrows and a bottomless skyful of stars. When I bought this land, I was seeking peace of mind. After a quarter century, some days I think I’ve almost found it.