by Kendal Steffa

When there is no moon, the Texas country summer nights are as black as the earth. The still evenings have no motion or sound except for the chirping of crickets and the buzzing of countless June bugs under the street lights. Lightening bugs flash on and and off in the tall grass with the rhythm of land beacons that warn lost ships not to come to close. The dark nights breath the mystery of the unknown into everything, like moonlight in a cementary. It was a time when the darkness became friendly and one could stalk his imagination.

It was on a night like this, when I was a boy, that I looked for my father to hear him explain the way things are. I could usually find him lying in his hammock in the soft blackness of the backyard, invisable except for the glow of his cigarette. Quickly we were stretched out together and looking up into the night sky, our minds opening a small door to a vast room hung with silent glitter. The stars turned overhead like frosty banners whose glow seemed to me the last refuge of all that is mysterious. But my father could explain it all as he walked through the panorama with his silhuotted finger, pointing out this star and that star. After a while my questions began to come.

"How far is it to that one? Do you know its name? How long will it shine?" The answers that came back were not nearly as important as the company.

Soon we were inspired to go up on the roof of our house to see it all from horizon to horizon. Even from the roof of a single story house, we were lifted above the trees and nearby houses. Here we became detached from the earth like dawn from dusk. The roof was like an altar of thought and wonder where fantasy mixed with the real. High up, the night was bigger and the stars were closer and it was all played upon by an unseen master. As we laid out on the roof, looking upward and backward into time, our conversation became a carefree blend of wonder and awe. And then, my father, the night sky and I became frozen in time.

About 10 years later, my father and I were reminiscing about those lovely Texas summer evenings, when he asked me if I remembered what else I said while on that roof. When I could think of nothing, he very solemly mentioned to me that I brought him great joy on that night and on that roof because I told him that I loved him. I didn't remember saying it, but I can easily believe I did on that softest of nights.

Still, many more years later and I'm on the roof of another house far from Texas where my excited twelve year old son has asked me to come in order to get a better view of a rare conjunction of the planets Mars, Venus and Jupiter. Unfortunately this house sits in the middle of a big city and nearby lights often mask our view. Still, like two owls perched on the high ridge, our view of the setting sun in the western sky is unobstructed. The sun had set an hour earlier but the sky was still bright and unusually clear. Venus and Jupiter were the first points of light to appear in the dusky sky while Mars was visible only with binoculars. As we sat there quietly gazing off to the west at the darkened sky, the planets grew brighter and their alignment slowly became a sight to marvel. Soon my son began to wonder about the planets and their paths around the sun and to ask questions as I did many years before.

"What's the most powerful telescope in the world?"

"I dunno." I said.

"Would Jupiter look as big as your fist if you had a powerful telescope?"

"Yes, but it wouldn't be very sharp." I replied.

Silence overcame us for a while as Kevin wound up his thoughts like a rubber band propellar, soon to let go with another question.

Could we see the Red Spot on Jupiter?"

"Yes." I said." Even Galileo saw the red spot."

Our house sits on high ground and we had a good view of the city whose street lights sparkled below the dim stars. We sat there and talked enjoying each others company for another 30 minutes or so until the chilly night air drove us off the roof. As we climbed down, I thought about my father and how our lives , at times, like the planets align themslves with the past and that just maybe someday my son, like me. will return to know this place anew.

Kendal Steffa, a Seattle architect, was one of the first participants in The Whiterock Alternative Men and Myth group.

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