Last night we had dinner with friends over at Oyster Bay. 6 of us sat in a kitchen that hangs out over the water at high tide (this kitchen was once a float-house; a number of the old houses in this community were, pulled to shore after the logging camps went broke) and ate good food, talked into the night. Coming home, there were elk (again!) crossing the highway by the golf course, their huge bodies dissolving into darkness as they entered the woods. When we arrived home, we stood in the driveway for a few minutes, hoping to see one of the Geminid meteors. It was too cold to linger long and no meteors shot across the sky but oh, the stars! So many, the constellations silver in the dark sky. You could almost hear them burning so brightly, almost.
We gave ourselves this piece of glass last Christmas. It was made by our friend June who was at the dinner party. It’s different in every season—I can say that now, having seen it for a year, hanging in our big window. Looking at it, I think of stars being born, dying, and planets whirling in the huge cosmic space. I think of salmon eggs in the nearby creek, buried in sand, and some of them floating down to the lake where mergansers wait to feast on them. I think of cells, of the smallest building blocks of life, replicating themselves. So of much this happens in darkness.
Last night we talked of books, ideas, our lives, all of which have been connected for more 30 years. Our children know one another. We’ve attended their weddings, felt pleasure in the news of the births of babies. The Christmas bags I left with them contain homemade things and the ones we brought back promise the same. The world goes on, damaged and impossibly beautiful. We’re part of that, the damage and the beauty. The other day we spent time making our annual contributions to organizations we support, small drops in the huge stream of what’s needed. But like cells, like those eggs in the gravel on the bottom of Haskins Creek, maybe our offerings will grow.
Standing under the stars last night, I thought of John Haines, his wonderful memoir of 25 years in the Alaska wilderness. It’s a cold book, even the chapters set in spring and summer. His was a solitary life, at least the life recorded in this book. But oh, the beauty:
The stars are brilliant—Polaris and the Dipper overhead. Through a space in the trees to the south I can see part of the familiar winter figure of Orion, his belt and sword; in the north I see a single bright star I think is Vega. I hear an occasional wind-sigh from the dome, and now and then moving air pulls at the spruces around me.
What does a person do in a place like this, so far away and alone? For one thing, he watches the weather—the stars, the snow and the fire. These are the books he reads most of all.
—from The Stars, The Snow, The Fire