When I was a girl, after dinner and after chasing lightning bugs to fill the mayonaise jar I would put beside my bed so I could watch them flicker and blink until I fell asleep, I would sometimes lie on my back in the field next to my house and watch the stars come out.
Never mind that the grass stuck to my sweaty legs and mosquitoes hummed in my ears, it was a fine show. Later, as a mother with young children, we piled onto a daybed on the patio and counted satellites and shooting stars, calling out each time we spotted one.
Now, with no lightning bugs to catch and no small children to keep me company, it is my habit to end the day on a lounge chair on the patio behind my house. I stretch out and stare at the sky until one by one the stars start to appear. The other night, as I lay there, I looked up between two pine trees in my neighbor’s yard and noticed a star just at the inner edge of one of the trees. Something distracted me and I looked away but when I looked back at the space between the trees, I noticed the star had moved, or, to be more precise, the planet on which I was lazing, had moved. The star was not as close to the tree as it had been. Time, and the star, had moved on while I was lost in thought.
This was no surprise. All throughout the day I look at my watch or the clock on my computer and I’m surprised to see how many minutes have flown while I was working or daydreaming. But alone in the dark, the ability to mark the passage of time by the stars was somehow satisfying. An ancient pleasure.
The neighborhood grew quiet as everyone left their backyards to move indoors. The parade of people walking dogs to the park on the sidewalk in front of my house ended. The cats gave up chasing insects in the grass and were curled up beside my chair. My little dog was snoring at my feet.
I could, if I listened closely, hear the sounds of traffic in the distance; a siren wailed somewhere downtown, a plane flew overhead. Slowly, steadily, the moved star to the other tree. And then it was gone.
Making my way indoors, putting away the cushion so the cats wouldn’t take the chair as soon as I left it, picking up the book I’d been reading that afternoon, I closed the door behind me. But n a way I could never have been when I was a girl, and was often too busy to comprehend when I was a young mother, I was aware of the sweetest gift: time.
Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org