August 20, 2013
Southbound, on Route 101, 10:30 p.m. The sky is black, a sliver of moon having sunk below the coastal mountains of the artists’ colony of Cambria. Dave and I, on our way from San Francisco to his town of Atascadero, have just driven past Gilroy, the garlic capital of the country, the smell of the fields pungent and, well, garlicky. We had just passed through a thick veil of fog that misted the car’s windshield, like slow rain, past Soledad Prison, Charlie Baird Manson’s house, lit like a napalm strike so Charley and friends/fiends can’t step out for a smoke, and now the night is dark matter, the unending mountains casting shadows.
We stop at a rest stop and park facing south. The air is cool and breezy. Dave goes into the restroom; I stay by the car.
Standing next to me at the rear of their pickup, is a lesbian couple. They had dropped their daughter off to college in San Francisco and were on a break from driving all night to PalmDesert. They have an open cooler in the truck bed and are enjoying beverages. And they are making “ooh” noises and staring north at the sky.
I turn and look up and shout, “Holy shit!”
The Milky Way is above us, south to north, glorious, garish and fine-etched, celestial leviathan of pale white streaks and pools, ocean of the infinite sky brimming with planets and stars and meteorites blazing north. Dave comes out and joins us and exclaims. It is like a religious experience, our bodies electric and trembling from the sight of the diaphanous, great universe. We “wow” over and over, overcome by power and beauty and art and mystery.
I think of the First People, what they must have made of the pictographs of spectral light, of the rocketing fires that hissed and exploded on Earth, of fog and storm and lightning and the terrible shrieks of sabertooth tigers and the roars of cave bears. “Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetops,” indeed. “And down will come baby, cradle and all.”
Now, second graders talk of black holes and time bending and the expanding universe.
We are not afraid. For we know
Scientists and preachers: Shut up.
Dave and I have been talking all morning about what we saw. Our friends from last night must be exclaiming too. I wish I had asked their names. When pilgrims witness, commune, share communion, they should know each other’s names. Ah well, good luck Sisters. We know you won’ forget us, nor will we forget you.
What we shared, o what a time it was. It is the single greatest sky we have ever seen, two pairs of strangers married by memory.