I grew up in northwestern Maine, in the foothills of the White Mountains, at a time when electricity had drawn only the slightest curtain over the night sky. In New York, I missed the stars.
As a young adult, I spent summer vacations on a three-acre island in 42-mile long Moosehead Lake, a venue which offered the most rewarding of night skies. Elizabeth and I went out onto the lake at night, sitting in the bottom of the canoe, leaning against the seats and sipping from our glasses some bourbon with a little of the water we had brought from the spring on Scammon Road or lying in the flat bottom of the aluminum rowboat, waiting for the shooting stars coming out of the Pleiades, for I was usually there around the end of July and beginning of August. We could see so much – the Milky Way, a plethora of clusters and constellations. During the day, we studied the sky chart Elizabeth kept in the little brown cabin, preparing for dark and stars.
One summer, Elizabeth and I decided to sleep on the beach in our sleeping bags, so we could drift off looking at the studded sky. For several nights, we slept first on the beach next to the old raft that had washed up on the south cove and then on mattresses we dragged from the cabin. The sky was so near, so deep, the stars so present! After a few nights, as we tried to sleep, we began to feel that we were falling off the edge of the earth, falling up, up, up. Finally, we could take it no more and retreated to the wooden porch deck, happy to feel the cabin next to us, keeping us grounded on the planet.
At Parker Pond, in the Sebago Lake area, where we had our Maine house in later years, city lights somewhat dimmed the stars, but we could see the Milky Way and the constellations, maybe not as many as at Moosehead, further north, but still, a plentiful banquet. At my surprise 70th birthday party, after our lobster dinner, some swimming, laughing, and talking, when many of the guests had left and the summer evening began, my cousins, my partner, our daughter, grandson, and I went down to the dock, and sat on our towels and blankets and waited for the August comet shower. We didn’t have long to wait, and the Pleiades didn’t disappoint; the meteors came fast, keeping our heads turning, and there was a continual voice-over of,
“Did you see that one?”
“Oh, that was the best one yet.”
On moonlit nights at Parker Pond, the river of moonlight over the water made it too bright to see all the stars, but we could still see many including the major constellations – the Dippers, Cassiopeia, Orion – and many nights, we snuck out before bedtime to drink it all in.
It was one of my sadnesses on leaving Maine – the loss of the full night sky – but Connecticut skies weren’t totally dark, and even the crescent moon rising over Anne’s roof wasn’t enough to erase all the stars from the sky. The blanket of fireflies that filled the marshes surrounding our patio helped to compensate for the stars we could no longer see. They blinked and called, “Don’t look up! We’ll fill the expanse.”
Whenever we returned to the City, I lamented the loss of stars. Even from the rooftop decks of the tall buildings we inhabited, which offered breathtaking views of the city skyline and the New York Harbor, I never saw any stars in Brooklyn. Never. Not one. Not even a planet. The many planes coming in to land at one of the City airports sometimes deceived my eyes for a bit, making me think I was seeing stars. But then they moved.
Every night during the past weeks that I have been packing to leave our Sheltered Cove condo, I opened the sunroom door, stepped onto the patio, and looked up, trying to get my fill. Sometimes it was cloudy and the stars were hidden, but other nights I could see the stars, even through the lights from New London shining across the Connecticut River, across the marshes.
I had called this my rebound house. If I couldn’t have Maine, I could have this view over the North Cove of the Connecticut River as compensation, always less than, but still, well, pretty wonderful. Now, leaving before I was ready, I was desolate, regretful that I had not let it have full measure in my heart. Now that I was losing it, I saw that the relationship between me and Sheltered Cove had kept me going, had tided me over, had helped me weather the loss of Maine, and I was grateful. I apologized, sincerely and profusely. “You really were special. I’m sorry that I wasn’t more receptive, more open.” Now it was too late. It was the relationship I never really had that I was letting go of.
As had been the case that last summer in Maine when I was packing to leave and wrote every day in my journal, “Another perfect day!” so it was this past month here in Sheltered Cove. Each morning, the chorus of birds that surrounded our home praised the day. The red-winged blackbirds landed on the tall reeds in the marsh, bending them beneath their weight and then riding them up and down in gentle bounces. Baby bunnies crossed my patio, showing me their white bottoms. A deer came to my window, and looked in, staring, trying to speak to me. Anne and I quietly pursued a mother turkey across the wide lawn, under the tall trees, and behind the neighboring houses, trying to get a glance at her babies. More sunny, breezy, wonderful days I couldn’t imagine. “If ever I would leave you, it wouldn’t be in summer…” played a steady sound track in my mind.
Then, last night, in front of our apartment in Brooklyn, I waited while Henry and Rosemary took a load of the boxes I had packed up to our apartment. I leaned back against Henry’s car and looked up. There, behold, above Cadman Plaza, was a star! A single star. Come to say, “It’s going to be all right.”