Monday, April 20, 2009

The Beach

At sunset the shadow of the railing was perfectly horizontal. All too perfect. It left me laboring, trying to understand: and as the sun fell into the last bank of cloud, you told me about the Northern Lights you'd seen as a girl. "The whole sky," you said. "the whole sky was shifting and glowing and moving."

The bar across the bedroom wall faded, and returned, as the sun made one last bid.

"The dance of the spirits," The Cree called it. Roger Ascham wrote, long long ago, about watching the snow fall, swirling in patterns, and realizing that what he was seeing was not the snow, but simply the air: the snow made it visible. The air was swirling and making patterns, intricate and beautiful, all the time. We see it, once, and think: oh! Snow! How beautiful and rare!" But we're wrong. It's the air, and it's dancing all the time. So is the solar wind above us, rippling, twirling, draping its curtains. When conditions are just right we see the Northern Lights, and we think it a special event. No. It's nothing in particular. It's just a chance to see what's there all the time.

Those are the ones we know about. A little tilt, a little shift in the conditions, and we can see what we're ordinarily blind to. There must be more that we've never learned to see. Hundreds, thousands more.

The light faded from the room, high up above the sea, just as it had come. Perched as we are on this little whirling rock, the sun climbing up one side and down the other, climbing up red over the hill and falling down red into the sea, and all the beauty sequestered in that high room condensing to a single horizontal bar of shadow. All these things are as improbable as they can well be.

I am ill today. The pulse in my head knocks with little painful surges against the top of my skull, against my sinuses. My eyes are sore as if I had watched the sun all day. Now the evening is cool and dark. Most of me is still in the wind, rippling under the night sky. Vultures were everywhere, on the drive back, spinning slowly on the updrafts, sideslipping, their small red heads, penile and crooked, so oddly at variance with their grace.

"We're still alive!" we pointedly said, and mimed doing jumping jacks to convince them. But vultures have no sense of humor. They nodded slowly, wobbled on their vast wings, and spun away on other hills of air. Some other time, then, they might have said. If they remembered us that long.

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