A cool night breeze flows through the screen door and kisses my bare shoulders. My family is sound asleep in their bedrooms, but instead of lying on the sofa that is my makeshift bed, I stand in front of the screen door that separates the kitchen from the deck outside. The door has gotten jammed again, but I jiggle it until it gives way. My feet welcome the surface of the wooden deck as I step from the tile kitchen floor onto the balcony. Crickets chirp from the tall grass below, and downhill from the cabin, gentle waves lap at the dock. Faint light emanates from the kitchen window, but the sky is still a deep blue-black. I turn my gaze upwards.
I have long had an interest in stars, and many a night have I ventured outside to squint at my star chart and match the patterns to those visible above me. Streetlights and the proximity to a city have polluted the sky such that even this is a challenging task. Here, on a sparsely populated island over a mile from the mainland, such a multitude of stars fills the sky that I cannot begin to find those familiar constellations. Hundreds, thousands of stars dot a midnight-blue blanket, concentrated in a milky stripe directly overhead. I revolve slowly and skirt the edges of the balcony, eager to absorb as much of the view as possible. My mind is analyzing at first, scanning the stars for patterns I recognize, but in a moment I am simply staring, taking them in without a thought beyond, This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
I sink to the deck and let my head rest against the boards, ignoring the cool wood against my skin, the mosquitos lighting on my arms, the sleep I am missing. The crickets and the waves are far more distant in my perception than the stars, though they are hundreds of light-years closer. It is a wonder to look at the sky and know that every star you see is a glimpse of its past, a snippet of time a hundred or a thousand years ago. Every tiny pinprick is a gigantic, glowing sun, perhaps with its own satellites and planets. And I can see them all.
Soon, of course, I will stand, bid the stars goodnight, and return to the couch in the cabin, where I will pass the rest of this beautiful night unconscious. But for a moment, the balcony fades, along with the grass and the dock and the kitchen light, and with my hair strewn about the deck and a giddy smile on my face, I am alone with the stars.
A few days ago, I walked outside the cabin on the first night of my vacation on an island in the middle of a river in mainland New York. Having grown up in a decent-size city with streetlights everywhere, at home it's a wonder if I find any stars. So seeing this sky made such an impression on me that I went inside and wrote this. Enjoy!