Camping

Suddenly she silently wakes, opens her eyes, and captures the barely distinguishable insides of the spacious, nylon retreat. It’s still dark, the kind of dark that’s accompanied by a few flickering camp lights, smoldering firepits, and stars. She woke at the same time last night, in the same way. Unsure of what’s causing it, she lays still for a moment, listening to the quiet. She prepares to take advantage of the dark.

She frees herself from the covers, and swings her legs to the side of the low bed. Pebbles, twigs, and short grass are just beneath her feet, separated from her, and temporarily smothered by, the slick, quick-dry material. For a moment she pauses, takes a deep breath, and looks around. Her campmate softly snores beside her. She recalls that their neighbors at this time last night were noisily going at it, as they had several times that day. But, currently it’s quiet, as the young, lustful lovebirds have gone, having packed up early that morning and returned to their surely industrious lives.

Everyone around her is asleep, even the crickets and other miscellaneous, many-legged insects. In moments like these, it’s easy to hear the breeze rustling the still-green leaves of the trees, and the sounds of open space hushed by dark. She thinks she can decipher rubber wheels of a truck racing down an asphalt highway, somewhere far off in the distance. It feels apocalyptic.

She slips her feet onto the cool leather footbed of her favorite thongs, worn lovingly into the eternal shape of her soles, and stands, not caring to dress herself fully. The temperature inside the tent has been slightly warmed from their steady breath as they slept. Gingerly, she steps away from the bed towards the door, strategically avoiding the barely-visible items strewn casually around that threaten to bring her crashing to the ground. She considers the impossible technique required to keep the zipper of a tent door quiet, and knows the sound will inevitably, rudely, slice through the muted air as she lets herself out. She does it quick, like pulling off a band aid. A high pitch sings through the air.

Their tent sits on the edge of a well-trimmed, open field, and is part of a wide circle made up of many sites, occupied by resting adventurers. They chose to set up camp underneath the trees of a densely wooded area that backs their spot. Closing the tent behind her, she steps out from under the trees, feeling the warm air on her bare legs. She can sense that Fall is coming soon and wishes she could feel that crispness now.

A few careful steps take her toward the center of the field; she moves along slowly as if afraid of being caught, like a fan sneaking backstage. Wondering if others will wake up and venture out, she regrets momentarily she didn’t fully dress, and feels exposed in the middle of the night. Then she tilts her chin up, straight up, as far as her neck will allow, feeling the strain and not caring. Pure joy overtakes her as she relishes the opportunity to see her world this way, thankful that her thoughtful mind awoke to give her this moment.

The full, leafy trees around the wide-open field frame a vast, black abyss, punctured by thousands of imperceptibly flickering, densely white lights – the size of dusty particles, shaken and strewn across the sky. Appreciating their variety in dimension and distance from her, the knowledge that, were she able to travel near to them, their worldly mass would be obvious, filled her head with a disorienting sense of gratitude.

Between the tiny, brightly reflecting masses she sees one moving steadily along, among its stationary sisters. She searches her mind for what it could be, at once considering the obvious choice of alien lifeforms, but settles on the hypothesis that it is an orbiting satellite. So beautiful, silent and far away, alone in the night sky. Headed along a path of unwavering certainty, a purpose surely clearly defined. Acknowledging her first satellite sighting, she logs it away in the form of a mental snapshot, storing it in a place that she can easily get to later.

After some time, her neck sends a message that the allowable time for observation has come to an end. She hears a stir in a nearby site. Coming back to earth, she feels her fully-physical nature once again, and the urge to skedaddle back into the privacy of her tent overtakes her.

As she lowers her head, her eyes catch a set of lights strung beautifully across the field, left on as a nightlight, an earthly connection to the many reflective bodies above. She slowly begins to move back across the field, holding the mental snapshot close to her heart.

On her way back, she glances up once more, the satellite now out of sight.

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