Crisp fall nights with their earlier sunsets and short twilights are tailor-made for astrophotography. I love to shoot this time of year, when the weather is warm enough that I can sit out all night without having to run inside to recover the heat in my bones. Monday night was so pleasant, in fact, that I decided to take a walk while the telescope ticked off an hour long sequence of images.
There isn’t any rule that one can’t go for a walk in the country at 3:00 AM, yet one cannot do so without experiencing the nagging sensation of violating a cosmic principle. I had time to spare and yet I found it impossible to walk slowly. My footfalls were louder than I have ever heard them as I strode down the centerline of the highway with my flashlight off, except for those few times when I could tell that I was getting too close for comfort with a skunk. Then, I would swing the flashlight around the roadside like a broadsword, until danger past and the night sky faded from my constricting pupils, luring me once again to embrace the dark.
What would I do if a car came by? Would a friendly wave be appropriate or just creepy? And what if a barking dog brought me to the attention of a nervous homeowner? If a policeman happened by would he accept that I had not been drinking as, if not quite a fact, at least not an egregious lie, and agree that the night air was truly my own business to mind?
I turned back toward home. Now fully accommodated to the light, and brightened by increased circulation, my eyes locked on to the majestic form of Orion laying on his back in the east, seemingly launching his arrow into the depths of space. I passed the skunks in their familiar locations, this time with the flashlight off. I walked, if not slowly, at least with less urgency down the center of the road. I listened to the wisdom of owls who insist on being heard while refusing to be seen. I arrived home and strolled under the familiar shadow of trees I had planted, whereupon a rabbit and I scared the mutual bejeezus out of each other.
Why is night cast as a metaphor for death? It quickens the senses, exhilarates the psyche and opens the eyes. Half of what lives and breathes calls it home. Count me among them.