While Duncan restlessly searches the ground for rabbits, rabbit droppings, places rabbits have hunkered down, my eyes have turned upward toward the stars. It was a perfectly clear night tonight so I did what I've wanted to do for a week which was search out the comet. Unfortunately I can't tell a jet from a satellite from a star, or even a weather balloon. But I don't think it matters because even when we don't know what things are we can make them wondrous simply by imagining they are.
As we mounted the hill above the lake a single very bright star (or was it a planet? I don't know and in the course of trying to figure it out I've frustrated myself and abandoned astronomy completely) was shining just over the rounded tops of the foothills. While Duncan sniffed and scratched the base of a sapling I watched the planes come in from the south west, perhaps from LA or Vegas, but it appeared as though they were coming in directly from that brilliant... heavenly body. They lined right up with it, slowly descending from the mountains and sweeping across Littleton before turning in a long, wide arc toward the airport. I smiled and watched for nearly five minutes as one by one the planes followed the same trajectory from Planet Who Knows What to DIA.
It reminded me of this place we went to when I was in college. We called it Northern California, although in truth it was nothing more than a bluff in Lake Forest that overlooked Lake Michigan. We'd drive out there in the late afternoons, and sometimes at night, quite often high, but not always, and look out across the lake, imagining we were looking over the Pacific. We'd christened it Northern California because it resembled the hilly, rolling green land with it's jutting peninsulas and wide tree-lined bays. At night we'd sit for hours watching the planes appear on the horizon, rising, it seemed, right out of the lake, and fly straight toward us before veering sharply south toward O'Hare.
We all have our flight plans and trajectories and sitting on that bluff in Illinois thirteen years ago I never would've been able to imagine myself on a hilltop in Denver doing the very same thing, enjoying the planes as they appeared on the horizon from unknown origins. I would've believed the people standing with me had similar flight plans and that remaining close to them wouldn't be so hard, especially the ones I loved the most.* My plans did not include working at this sad little college nor spending so much time walking and talking about walking while thinking about other things, gazing at the stars, looking backward in time.
I was unable to identify Comet Holmes, or rather, if I did I was unable to recognize it as a comet but as just another white speckly thing located somewhere in the constellation of Perseus. But the universe, which I believe provides for us in the same way that some people believe God does, did not want me to leave empty handed. As Duncan and I turned back toward home (Duncan had his own flight plan which seemed situated somewhere under the shrubs between the playground and our Owl Tree), I watched the sky split in half, cut down the middle by a white hot blur that sparked and burnt the night. I caught my breath and watched the meteorite (a Leonid?) burst brilliantly above me and then as it moved toward the milky horizon, sputter and fade away.
It was wonderful and reminded me that I am still standing exactly where I am supposed to be.
*To Rick. It's Good to Know You're Still There
(Photo courtesy of Google Images)