Stargazing

Maybe somewhere in the southern hemisphere
There could be room for all this love
Where they’ve saved a place for innocence
And what is still mysterious
And their dreaming time
They’re dreaming time

Because we’ve broken down the wilderness
And we’ve blackened up the skies
And we cry ’cause we’ve got no vision left
While the smoke gets in our eyes
And there’s no more time
And the dream is dying

(Orion In the Sky – Shawn Colvin, from the album “Fat City”) 

I booted up my laptop, poured myself a glass of ice water and went outside into the windy night. It is a pleasant sixty-five degrees for a November night, and the wind is blowing from the east to the west. Pumpkins still line our sidewalk; those carved for Halloween (already a week ago) are beginning to resemble old men and women who have removed their false teeth. No longer bearing sharp fangs, their lips are curling back inside their orange shells. I walked past them and found myself standing in the driveway. It is a beautiful clear night and despite living in the city the stars are very clear. I look east and I can see Orion’s belt, and locate Rigel and Betelgeuse. Gemini is due west of Orion, and Taurus the bull is just above them both. Perseus is higher still in the sky, and Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) is hidden from my sight by the rooflines and treelines of the neighborhood as he resides close to the horizon this time of year. I recognize these stars and constellations without even once breaking out my Google Sky app on my Droid phone. I have long ago committed them to memory, though I admit I need a refresher as the years and lack of stargazing has softened my memory a bit.

When I was a teenager I used to spend nights much like this out in my backyard. A tree along our fence line had been cut down about three feet from the ground, leaving a large stump to sit on. It was a perfect place to sit and look at the skies and the stars. I went out there a lot to talk to myself…or talk to God. Those years are the years you are wondering how it will all turn out. Where will I go in this life? Who will I go with? What will I be doing? Will I ever get out of this little town? Navel-gazing while stargazing. I would spend an hour or so out there, often going in only when the cold got to be too much. I usually went to the “thinking stump” as I called it during the autumn or some winter nights. Those nights were crisper, the skies clearer. It seemed that the universe was larger, yet that I was closer to God.

I only took one person to this sacred spot of mine. Her name was…well, I’ll keep that to myself. She may read this and I’d hate to embarrass her. She was a year ahead of me in high school. We were in band together. She was quiet and unassuming, and I thought she was very pretty. Somehow we connected in all the busyness of our teenage years for too short a time and made a try at dating. I was horrible at it and my first love, baseball, ensured the relationship’s death come springtime. But that winter was warmed by the quiet, pretty farmgirl who played clarinet. One night, a night much like tonight, we had gone out for a bit and spent some talking on my front porch. We went for a walk and found ourselves in my backyard where I led her to the place I did all my thinking. I sat down and she sat on my lap for warmth. We talked about the same questions: How will it all turn out? Where will we go in our lives? What will we be doing? We laughed and we talked about all the possibilities before us. I pointed out some constellations to her. Orion. Gemini. Taurus. We held hands. We kissed. My hand chastely rested on her leg. For too brief a time all was right in my teenage world.

I’m sitting inside now as I type this. Outside the wind is howling and I find myself wishing I were back on that stump looking at the stars and asking those same questions, both to myself and to God.

We stop doing that as we get older and busier, don’t we? We stop having those conversations. Asking for guidance. Discerning our path. Examining our days just lived. We get up and go day in and day out, too busy or distracted to look inward. Or more importantly: to look outward.

It has been a beautiful, wonderful autumn in Nebraska this year. We had a gorgeous weekend. But I got outside perhaps three times, two of those in order to drive distances in a car. I didn’t enjoy the days at all as I should have or as I did when younger. And tonight as I looked at the skies it hit me that I may very well now have fewer chances to do so ahead of me than I’ve lived behind me.

Tonight I’m asking myself those same questions: How will it all turn out? Where will I go in this life? What will I be doing? To stop asking them assumes we have reached our destination or that somehow we’ve arrived. I certainly haven’t “arrived.” There’s still a long, long ways to go. At least I hope so. I’d like a few more autumn nights like this one to sit out and gaze at the heavens.

In fact that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I’m shutting off this laptop.

Join me outside, won’t you? I’ll show you how to find Orion.

So I’ll see you darlin’
Now fly baby, fly
Down across the Fiji Islands
To where the Seven Sisters cry
Gather all your dreams and take them
Somewhere so far out of reach
Follow the sword of the hunter, baby
And meet me on the beach
We are forever tied
Still on the run
To the medicine man
For all the sad, sad things
We’ve done

©2010 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.

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