Up above the terra firma a band of effervescent bubblish dots enmeshed in a transluscent band---the Milky Way. I stand on powdery dirt in the midst of cars parked civilized and orderly even without lines to contain them, and gaze upward to the blackness of the star salted sky. On this night, in this place, away from city lights, with only the glow of campfires for illumination, I see what I often cannot see and yet, by faith, believe is always above me in the night
I hear languages I do not understand as I pass by campfire after campfire on the way to my lodging. The universal sound of laughter captures me as it wafts past. I smile. A rustle and a scream and a dust cloud as an animal breaks the line of my peripheral vision. What? The man in the next campsite says, “’Coon. Big ass ‘coon.” Southern, I think, in California we say ‘raccoon’.
After the last log turns to embers and the chill in the air overrides my need to sit in the open air, I trek to the bathroom, return to my campsite and hunker into my sleeping bag leaving only my head exposed. The decibels of the noise of play and banter give way around me to the sounds of the night. I think about the Milky Way. I think about the stars I do not see in such depth in my citified existence. I think about the absence of the moon that permitted the stars to emerge. I wonder--is it learned behavior that caused the stars to march in the band of the Milky Way or random behavior that caused the cars to be parked in order as if within lines? Is order in itself innate, neither random nor learned?
On other nights beyond this, I sit in the courtyard of my home and see, peeking through the leaves of the four-trunked olive tree, the sliver of the crooked-smile moon, or the flashlight-orb of the full moon. On those nights the stars are masked by glow of city lights and moon light. I wonder about what I cannot see, what I do not know. What is on the backside of the moon, kept politely hidden in its veil of mystery? Beyond there, does a sentient being dwell within a courtyard and is the being capable of pondering the night, wondering about the unknown on the other side of the dark disk framed against a lighted background of our planet in the glow of its sun? Is the embrace of the dark and the light a connection between us?
In my campsite the chill of the moonless night encourages me to burrow deeper into the mummy bag and pull the string until only my nose is visible. I linger in the twilight before sleep where coherent thoughts give way to random images and the feeling of being covered by the night begins. A clang so close startles me. I pull myself from the pit of sleep. “Big ass ‘coon’” I hear through the still air. My nose disallows and sends to my brain, “Big ass skunk.” As I once again float down into the unknown, into the depth of the night’s slumber, the raccoon leaps across the Milky Way, the skunk meanders through the stars.