(courtesy of thedailytail.com)
My family is not the “camping out” sort. (In honesty, we weren’t much of a do-anything sort of family, vacations as well as extra-curricular activities being controlled by my parents who had little interest beyond their league bowling once a week and a yearly visit to my mother’s family in Maine. But I digress…)
Because I never got the opportunity to experience it, camping seemed incredibly exciting to me, if not out-right exotic. Imagine being in the woods at night! What would you hear? What would you SEE? Could you even sleep at all? Would raccoons invade the camp? Or bears? Maybe mountain lions?
Alas, I was destined for disappointment. My parents’ notion of camping was to visit my aunt and uncle at their so-called “camp” (complete with running water, bathrooms, heat, and real beds). Stay out in a tent? Sleep on the ground? Was I nuts?? The few invitations to camp with friends that came my way were refused. Perhaps my constantly worried and fearful mother really believed that something dire would occur if she didn’t keep me in sight — God knows it had happened before. I begged to sleep out at my grandparents’ place in Maine (I’d be just outside the window, after all, or — with luck — on the dock). Nope. I was doomed to experience the night from behind a pane of glass.
Until one occasion. Looking back, I guess I was in my early to mid teens. It was summer; warm, but not yet the height of mosquito season. Or maybe I mis-remember that part and it was closer to fall. Maybe the looming threat of school is what made my overly cautious mother give in to my plea that I be allowed to sleep out on the pool deck with my friend Dave and my niece Michelle. At any rate, she said yes. Excited? It was better than Christmas. (Well, almost.) We knew this was nothing like real camping (we were in sight of the house, for goodness’ sake), but none of us was about to quibble.
Michelle is five years my junior. At the tender age of (roughly) ten she was an in-your-face, self-confident, indomitable character afraid of nothing. (She hasn’t changed.) David (gone now more than twenty years) was a year older than me, a shy and sensitive guy, musically talented (he played a mean piano), and involved in theatre, the sort who (in a sports-oriented school like ours) gets eaten alive by the other boys, which was why he hung out with girls.
We gathered our “equipment” (three sleeping bags and some snacks) and staked out our territory on the deck my father had built for our above-ground pool. As night came down, we watched the lights come on in the neighboring houses. Mom came out once to check on us. “Are you SURE you want to do this?” Maybe she was hoping we’d cave in; that we’d grow fearful of the encroaching dark and high-tail it inside so she could sleep in peace. We might have, had she sweetened the pot by dangling the promise of popcorn or hot chocolate. As it was, we stayed firm and she left us there.
Oh, the mystery, the other-worldliness of being out beneath the stars! We felt so brave, so daring, without the familiar walls of our bedrooms around us. This was what it meant to be of the world, not just in it. A calm and provincial form of adventure, I suppose, but it was enough for us at the time.
We lay on our backs, side by side, and watched the stars. Our voices rose and fell in a soft rhythm. I don’t remember what we talked about; whatever stuff interests a couple of teenagers and a wannabe. Then David said, “What’s that?” and pointed at the sky.
Something had emerged from the horizon.
It was far away, round as the eraser end of a pencil, and bright as daylight. It moved across the star field in a steady arc from north to south, climbing the arch of the sky as our eyes tracked its progress. Rapt, I felt first Michelle’s and then David’s hands curl inside mine. Tethered one to the other, we watched the apparition reach its zenith and then (apparently) descend todisappear beyond the distant run of trees and the bright lights of the car auction across the way.
“Was that a flying saucer?” Michelle whispered. She sounded a little frightened.
“Satellite,” David said without conviction. So did he.
“Do you want to go inside?” I asked. I wasn’t about to admit that the idea held a certain charm. If they wanted to, I’d be big-hearted and do it for them, but admit to my own fear? Never.
David shook his head. “Let’s wait and see if it comes around again.”
So we lay there and waited…and it did. And we talked about it, wondered whose it was and where it was headed, what it’s purpose might be. Sometime during all that speculation, we fell asleep and woke to the rising sun cutting a swath across the sky, obliterating the stars and our visitor’s celestial trail. But we knew where it was. We could track it in our hearts.