2 a.m. and I was standing in the back yard staring straight up, the cold wind blowing right through my cotton pajamas. But I wasn’t really cold, at least, not at first. I felt alive.
I woke around 1:30 a.m. full of thoughts and when I realized I wasn’t going to fall asleep any time soon, I decided to stop fighting with myself and got up.
I headed downstairs to the kitchen for a cool drink and noticed that the night sky was alive. In times like this, I’m glad that I’m a grown up. I decided to do what I had wanted to as a chronically sleepless child but didn’t because I knew I wasn’t supposed to.
I yanked big boots on over bare feet and pulled my down jacket on, flipping the hood up before I quietly let myself outside. The dogs had stayed upstairs in their beds and I didn’t want to rouse them and wreck my moment of solitude.
The minus 30 Celsius wind buffeted my pant legs as soon as I walked beyond the back porch and into the frozen expanse of the yard. I shoved my hands deep into my pockets and felt the chill blast its way down the tops of my boots around my ankles; laces hanging loose.
An inky black sky sparkling with stars gifted me when I turned my eyes upward; the Milky Way creating a bridge from one horizon to the other.
Right away, I spotted the Little Dipper and pulled a hand from my pocket, drawing an arc across the sky with my index finger as if pouring water from it into the Big Dipper, searching the sky for the other ladle.
Suddenly lonely, I looked up at the neighbour’s house hoping for a light on signalling that she was up for baby’s night feeding, but no luck. The house was dark.
Then I looked for Orion, my nighttime companion.
Some 12 years ago, though it always feels like it happened just yesterday, I was informed that my friend Naomi and six others died in an avalanche just before the late night news aired. It turns out that I already knew she was gone, but that’s a different story and one that I have only shared with a few people.
I watched the newscast, the top story of the day about their deaths on the mountain. Unable to sit still with the details and the proof of her death, I walked for miles alone and long into the night. I struggled with the idea that it was as if her spirit, her energy, had been dispersed like an exploding star into the universe. Not gone but not whole. Not lost but no longer a tangible human being anymore either.
I searched for some sign of her but found Orion instead. For hours that night I kept my eye on Orion and felt slightly less alone with my grief.
From about November through April the constellation keeps me company when sleep eludes me. So standing in the yard, I looked for him again; a guy and his hounds protecting earth from above.
And standing there studying his familiar outline is when I realized why the sky was alive. The northern lights were waving. They weren’t distinct ribbons leaping and weaving like I’ve seen before. This time they were spread like a gauzey bedsheet being tossed out across the matress; gently floating and rolling into place and back out of place as pockets of wind knocked the sheer glow about.
I had to blink and look again to believe it wasn’t just some kind of cloud formation. It was the northern lights. I haven’t seen them in months and months. What a treat!
I breathed deeply and felt the first real bone-chilled shiver course through my body and knew my time outside was about up.
I hunkered more deeply into my coat and clenched my legs against the first stings of frost bite so I could watch the mystical lights shimmer for just a while longer.
I whispered to the universe, “Thank you for my life.”
This has become my mantra in recent years when the enormity of how precious and precarious life is weighs on my mind and reminds me to show gratitude.
Feeling small and insignificant but expansive and filled with purpose all at the same time, I finally gave in to the pain of slowly freezing and let myself back into the house.
The dogs were awake but still quiet and didn’t budge from their blankets. l crawled under the warm duvet and, finally settled in the centre of my being, allowed my body to settle down too.
Sleep found me; peaceful, empty of dreams and wholly restful.