August 12, 2011
When we moved to Rochester in December 10 years ago I didn’t get outside much. My husband, in honor of my milestone 40th birthday, which wasn’t coming until June of the next year, decided to surprise me upon arrival in our new home with an amazing present – a used red Camaro convertible - with a big gold bow on it. I looked at his amazing gift and cried, for many reasons, but mostly because I knew I could only drive it three months a year. Also, I kept thinking the present was really for his 40th birthday. I mean really? A red Camaro?
But then he took me out on a mild night, put the top down and drove out into the country. I was shivering, crying (which I did a lot those first few months) and begging him to put the top up. And then he pulled over and said, “Shut up, and look up.”
And when I finally did, I was speechless, the sky was amazing. The blanket of black was studded with the most amazing sparkling, twinkling lights. I think they call them stars. For years we’d missed seeing stars in Bethesda, our semi-urban suburban home. But driving in the countryside outside of Rochester we could finally appreciate all the night sky had to offer.
And then the weather got warmer and I couldn’t help but marvel again at the sky in the summer. I swear the sky seemed closer to us up here than it did down South. My astronomer friends might laugh at me – but I felt I could touch the sky. I would lie in the hammock with my son (impossible now that he’s 15) mesmerized by the wisps of clouds turned burnt orange as the sun set across the rise.
That first summer my son kept asking if we could sleep outside one night. I couldn’t do it, being a city girl, the idea of sleeping outside never appealed to me (even when I was at sleep-away camp), that, and I was scared. I finally caved in and we snuggled together under blankets in the hammock. The sky actually gave me comfort as the stars and moon started to rise. As soon as he started to snore I carried my boy inside – despite the beautiful sky there was no way I was spending the entire night in that hammock.
When my kids were small and I had to travel I used to comfort them with the sky. I told them that the same moon they saw in Rochester was the same moon I was seeing across the world. Now, when my kids are miles away at sleep away camp I’m comforted knowing we are looking at the same beautiful sky each night.
Driving up the hill towards our house I often find the peace I crave when I take in the gorgeous clouds in the distance as they gather before a storm. The husband is a “true believer” in the power of the sky. He even attributes the memory of a lost loved one to each star that comes out at night. He’ll call us all to the front door to gaze at the sunset off in the distance. “Stop, take it in,” he urges as we rush through our lives. (Yea, he’s a keeper.) Maybe we love the sky so much because we were both born on a solstice – my birthday is the longest day of the year and his is the shortest – of course, I tell him I got the better deal.
This summer I keep thinking about the 10 years of skies I’ve witnessed in Rochester. Winter skies grey and white; spring skies, pink with possibility; and summer skies red hot and long, reminding me that fall is coming to shorten the days bringing orange skies that will lead to yet another winter. Appreciating the sky grounds me and makes me realize how beautiful life lived in a former cornfield can be – if you are willing to stop crying and look up.
As first published in the Democrat + Chronicle and on the USA Today Network