Last night we slept out on the deck under the stars. By we, I mean Conal, our friend Joe, me, and all the other critters we share our mountain with. For the critters, it was business as usual. For us humans, it was a magical, gorgeous night a bit outside the usual, everyday experience of life.
Conal and I tried sleeping outside once before. It was a few weeks ago during the last full moon. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but the experience was rather less than glorious. The bright moonlight beaming in our eyes made sleep a challenge. In addition, it ended up getting pretty darn cold that night. We abandoned our inflatable-bed-ship sometime in the middle of the night and retreated to the house, snuggling under our cozy comforter indoors with great relief.
This time around there was no moon whatsoever, only stars, splashed across the night in exuberant, sparkly abundance. I watched, fascinated and wide-eyed, trying to take in the whole scene from horizon to horizon, and not really succeeding. It was a lot of sky. The night was lovely and warm, a welcome coolness following on the heels of a day that had reached 106 degrees in the shade.
I set up our two large air beds on the north deck, complete with clean sheets and blankets and pillows from my stash of comfies in the hall closet. We were going all out in the comfort area, I decided. I made sure I had my eye drops (since I was sleeping in my contacts in order to fully enjoy the starshow), water bottle, and flashlight next to the bed. I kept my wristwatch on, since I knew I’d be curious about the time if I woke up periodically. I made sure the guys were comfy, too. Conal and I cuddled together into our nest of blankets, and Joe laid himself out on top of his mattress a few feet away, choosing to forgo the covers in favor of full-body breeze enjoyment.
Wisps of heat laced the delicate wind, as soft and warm as kitten fur and perfumed with the fragrance of sun-baked forest. Unseen small creatures rustled here and there on the hillside, accompanying the gentle wind-rustling of the trees. I fervently hoped the skunk I saw the other evening was not among the nearest rustle-makers, but mostly enjoyed imagining who might be going about their business out there beyond the edge of the deck.
I did not so much enjoy the small bats flip-fluttering about just above our heads. One kept buzzing us so closely I instinctively pulled the covers up to my eyeballs, keeping a wary eye on him. I really am glad for the helpful bats, munching away on mosquitos and other bitey bugs, and yet they still give me a chill with their meaty flapping and squeaking. Thankfully, no leathery face-brushings occurred before the bats moved on.
The three of us, as chatty as we normally are, barely spoke after bedtime beyond the occasional soft exclamations of wonder and sighs of happiness. I guess we didn’t want to talk over the show. Conal was soon sleeping peacefully next to me, his hand curled around mine. I could tell Joe was still awake over on his air bed, but talking didn’t seem very necessary.
Hours went by. The Milky Way slid westward as the night went on, arched in a majestic, mottled stripe from north to south. The blinking red and white lights of tiny, distant jets inched along overhead in an eastbound flight path one after another, perhaps from the Bay Area. The faint roar of their engines was almost entirely muted by distance and reached us long after their light. I saw several falling stars zip across the sky, almost faster than I could track. Faint specks of light I guessed to be satellites were much harder to spot, and slower.
Sometime around eleven-thirty, a very bright object began to climb in the southeastern sky. I am terribly lacking in astronomical knowledge, so I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you what it was. Its unwavering character suggested a planet to me. Maybe I’ll Google it later. I did very much enjoy watching its strong, steady light, at first peeking out here and there through the oaks on the horizon, then radiating out in full glow once it made it into clear sky.
The calls of a hundred unknown night things were charmingly underscored by the Murray Creek Cricket Chorus, in fine form as usual on a summer night. I drifted in and out of a light, pleasant sleep, alternating star-staring with snoozing. After awhile, I noticed myself getting just slightly chilly in my light pj’s, so I tip-toed indoors and put on a sweater and some warm socks, grabbing extra blankets from inside for everybody. Joe declined, saying he was perfectly comfortable, but Conal, awakened by my movements, accepted the offer of another layer. I snuggled back down next to him, much more cozy now and starting to feel a deeper sleep coming on. As I finally allowed consciousness to glide away, I made a mental note to write about the magnificence of choosing to spend and ordinary night in an extraordinary manner. Who knows how the universe might shift with the simple act of shifting of one’s bed under the vault of heaven?
The next thing I knew, I woke to a lightening sky feathered with wispy clouds building up toward the east. “August clouds,” Conal’s mom Ann called them yesterday, remarking on their early debut this year. A perfect crescent moon, only just risen, shimmered whitely through the sunrise-pinked clouds. My watch showed it to be shortly after five. I felt peaceful and happy.
We’ve got three inflatable beds. We’re thinking we should have a few more on hand. We imagine regular group camp outs on the deck. Everybody ought to get the chance to hang out with this sky, to find out if their universe might shift. Wanna come?