Gaze

By Tamara Sellman

Essay

 

It’s a perfect night for sleeping outside. I told my husband so, but he said I was crazy.

Why would you want to do that?

I dunno. Fresh air? A chance to be swallowed by the night sky? To watch the Perseids?

I spend all day at work on a computer. Craving the aboriginal—dreamtime in suburbia—is nothing if not an act of psychic survival.

Whatever.

I flatten a sleeping bag on the sun chair, plump a buckwheat pillow. I hear my husband now, snoring through the open window above me. I unzip my down wrapping, find carbon-free climate control by slipping my foot into the cool August night.

 

* * *

 

My family won’t attend local star parties. The astronomical society holds monthly meetings to discuss and view the varying and visible aspects of the cosmos. After our family vacation to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, when the moon was new and the sky shimmered with diamond astral bodies, I thought we’d be more gung-ho.

But my family’s memories of that trip lean toward wild-eyed expletives about Arizona heat, the insane price of gas, the transient virus that sickened my kids: fifteen-minute stops en route the bumpy southern Utah highways to the great gap, girls heaving dry, cola syrup and ice chips in between.

 

* * *

 

I widen my eyes as if this will more quickly allow them to absorb the night’s light. All black becomes black with blue. Silhouettes of trees. Does it really take thirty minutes for the human eye to differentiate color or shape in the dark? Are we really that blind? Or do we just live too fast for the naked eye to catch?

 

***

 

My father-in-law once gave us a telescope. I think my husband sold it through Craigslist. Without telling me.

 

***

 

There they are. The Perseids. Meteors leave trails that render the most beautiful fairy dust I’ve ever seen. You can’t miss them streaking across the sky, leaving behind glittery trails to blueprint the universe between the woods and the rooftop.

Our kids were so young then, all they wanted to do was go to bed. They did not see the adventure in laying flat in their pajamas on pumice sand around a volcanic lake well past bedtime to watch shooting stars.

 

* * *

 

Another time, while vacationing at the lake, meteors came in droves, shooting directly at us from a source far away to the east. The effect resembled hitting warp speed in the Star Trek spaceship Enterprise.

 

* * *

 

I can almost hear the plants breathing. The ones in the woods, the ones on this deck. I can’t take my eyes off the night, if only to hear the Earth better.

When I was a kid, we would go car camping. My dad and I used to stretch out on the picnic table to watch for satellites. Back then, they were rare discoveries, at least to me. It was the early 1970s. We talked about what it might mean to live in a multiverse. Now I see the flashing beacons of jets and the slow trolling of space junk so frequently that I lament their ordinariness.

I’m the only one who ever uses this deck.

 

* * *

 

We live about a mile inland. I can smell the oysters from here. The tide’s out, laying bare the geoduck, the red rocks, the moonsnails. A metallic smell to match the silver light show.

All summer long, I keep the bedroom open and listen. Deer crash through the fern grove. Coyotes wail. Dogs bark. There is the song of feral cats in heat, the occasional shriek of a wayward peacock left to survive in the wild, hoots from a barred owl. The musical growl of a raccoon chiding her kits. August.

Will my kids ever marvel over the infinite quality of even a single universe? If they can’t imagine sleeping outside, how will they ever find their way in the dark?

I want there to be a multiverse.

We camped during the summer after Saddam Hussein’s statue was felled like a tree. My family slept in a tent. Having risen to use the outhouse, I paused to absorb a heaven salted with cold white gems. Satellites cut noiselessly through their mosaic. Briefly, I imagined rockets launching half a world away in a shared universe. I stopped crying and wrote a poem about stargazing before re-entering the tent. It rained the rest of the trip.

 

***

 

Mental note: The trees are getting far too close to the house. They might erase this small but necessary claim I’ve staked, all within one season’s course.

 

* * *

 

Meteors consist of fragments which, because they pass through the tail of a comet, emerge brightly in its illumination. Even alone with my thoughts and with no reason to pretend wonder, I hold my breath in awe.

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TAMARA SELLMAN is an independent healthcare writer, sleep health educator, and MS activist who lives in Bainbridge Island, WA.

2 responses to “Gaze”

  1. Jenifer Lawrence says:

    Beautiful essay, Tamara! I’m with you on the awe of the galaxy and sleeping under the stars. Love this: “when the moon was new and the sky shimmered with diamond astral bodies”~ Jenifer

  2. Aw thanks, Jenifer! I will never be bored by the universe!
    Tamara

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