Night Vision

The three of us held hands as we walked along the road between campsites. The glow of campfires and lanterns just reached our dark path but didn’t illuminate it. Voices of the families gathered around them were hushed now that darkness had fallen. We were headed towards our own shared campfire. We could hear our friends’ voices, laughing and telling stories, as we walked towards the warmth and light awaiting us.

“Hey, come here.” His familiar voice out of the shadows startled us a bit, not much. “I’ve got something to show you.”

He’d been waiting for us to return from our trip, hoping to catch us away from the others so our absence wouldn’t be noticed. We didn’t have our lights on, but we could see him now that we knew where he was. Smiling face obvious now, the lenses of his glasses flashed the slightest bit in the starlight.

“Come on. We’re going to the beach.”

The kids and I all carried headlamps in our pockets, but only Michael used his as we started down the steps from the headland to the beach. Cupped in his hand, it emitted the faintest red glow through his fingertips, just enough to illuminate the uneven steps hewn from enormous logs brought in by the tide. Once we reached the beach and cleared a log jam against the cliff wall, he clicked it off and we stood a minute to let our eyes readjust. The sand at our feet was still warm from the sun, the brisk breeze on our faces cooled by salt spray.

Our toes dug through the churned up dry sand as we crossed the top of the beach. It became flatter and harder, almost like concrete, as we continued towards the water. The tide was so low and the waves so far away that the roar of the Pacific was muffled and remote. The sky was vast above us, the light of the stars bright enough that we could see each other clearly.The kids ran ahead, no longer concerned about tripping over logs or falling into moats dug around sand castles.

We met at the water’s edge, the rising moon still bloodied by the reflection of the sun, a reflection we could no longer see at the horizon but that stretched unseen around the curve of the earth. Those last rays of the sun reflected in the moon’s face made its path glowing across the calm sea just this side of pink.

In a low voice Michael pointed out the constellations to the girls, their questions and giggles still low, but lively. The darkness blanketed even the sound of children’s voices, but not their energetic tones. He pointed out constellations, mars, satellites overhead. Then he showed them the tiny pinprick of light on a fishing boat miles out, so far that it looked about to fall over the horizon at any moment, like the sun had.

I didn’t fully listen. I was content with the named presence of the big dipper, the rising moon. I thought instead of the gift he was giving them. A memory being built. Tonight it’s an adventure. Long from now, in some unexpected moment, this memory will surface: Dad, beach, night, new rising moon. Entering their minds like nourishment, stored away for when they need it.

Driving at night on the winding, two-lane rural road. It rises from the river bottom, curving its way through small farmsteads, in and out of woods of maple, oak, birch, and sassafras. Humid summer air whisking in the windows, smelling of cows and mown hay. The night noises of crickets and frogs gaining and losing volume as we pass. The family is safely enclosed in the car, my parents’ profiles silhouetted by blue lights from the dashboard. My sister and brother on either side of me, dimly seen, but pressed close in the back seat. We are silent, expectant, because the cabin is just a mile or two away.

Finally, we crest the last hill into the bright full moon, leaving the woods behind for a little while. Dad says, “Look at this everybody!” and he clicks off the car’s headlights for a few exhilarating minutes. We speed along the broad bend at the top of the hill in the moonlight and slope downwards just enough to feel the rollercoaster swoop before he flips them on again.

“Jim!” my mother scolds as we laugh at the utter recklessness and audacity of it all.

We slowly turned our backs on the ocean and the moon to scan the sky behind us for shooting stars. The little one leaned against my legs, shivering a little. A line of flashlight beams snaked its way along the headland path and down log steps. Snatches of laughter and occasional shouts made their faint way towards us.

“Let’s go back.” He said.

We walked holding hands, four across this time. Passed invisibly into the shadows as the teenagers whooped and hollered their way past playing flashlight tag. At the bottom of the steps, headlight cupped in his hand, Michael illuminated the path with pinpricks of light. We headed back from the dark towards the light and conversation of fire and friends.


Please click here to see a photograph of Kalaloch Beach by Leonel Torres.

Please click here to see the moon rising over the headland at Kalaloch Beach by Leonel Torres.


Filed under Imprint

7 responses to “Night Vision

  1. I adore writing that creates images and this does exactly that, even in the dark. Beautiful. I wish I’d been there with you, staring up at the stars, sand between my toes.

    • Thank you, Bag Habit! It’s so vivid in my memory that I didn’t know if it would come across to readers in the way I’d hoped. I’m so glad you could see it in the dark. I hope you had a moment to click on the links following the essay. They are beautiful images of that same beach–image I’d never be able to capture with my own camera.

  2. wcdameron

    Beautiful writing and imagery. I know what you mean when you say that memory will be stored for when it is needed later. It’s almost as if the experience is a memory before it has passed, isn’t it?

    • Thank you, Bill. Yes, I know what you mean. I try, maybe harder than I should, to hold on to those moments for just a little bit longer, just to try to etch them more fully in my mind. Hope you’re riding out the storm well tonight!

  3. Every bit as beautifully rendered as your previous post. The moments you’ve captured here are pulled together so delicately. It feels delicate: the desire to hold onto the ephemeral and that greater desire to have others recognise it too. The paragraph describing the gift given to your children by Michael is done so well — so powerful — and then the lovely segue to that memory of your own childhood, with everything connected by light and dark and the fabric of memory. It’s a joy to find a new place you look forward to visiting again, sure of the quality you will find, and this already feels like such a place.

    • Your comment means a lot to me, Matt. Thank you. It’s one of those moments that isn’t going to leave me, but putting it down in words seems to make it real again. I’m so pleased that you saw in it what I’d hoped readers would see.

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