The Stars Tonight

We came to Vail to celebrate Andy’s birthday.

Only Andy is not here. But we kept the restaurant reservation anyway, at Allie’s Cabin, on the mountain at Beaver Creek.

I can’t say the food was spectacular, but the ride up in a snowcat driven sleigh…whew, I haven’t seen that many stars in decades.

I told you I was an Eagle Scout, but the first time I slept outside was in the backyard. We had three-quarters of an acre. And the backyard was big enough for baseball and badminton and sleeping.

You know how it is, you beg your parents, and eventually they say yes.

You go outside just before dark, with your flashlights and provisions, and you tell jokes and stories and wait to get tired, which happens much later than you expect. And then when you’re deep in sleep, the sun comes up, and your bag is covered with dew and you schlepp it inside and watch cartoons.

And eventually you become a Boy Scout, a dying organization whose best feature was the hiking and camping. Only this time, we used tents.

And then you graduate to the point where you hike and camp by your lonesome, or with a partner.

Let’s see, I’ve hiked the Green Mountain Trail and slept overnight, but not the whole thing.

I’ve slept in Grand Teton National Park.

Actually, I’ve driven cross-country twice and camped the whole way.

I’m not sure anybody does that anymore, I think they fly. They’re not in search of America, but we were, kinda like that old Simon & Garfunkel chestnut, back when you couldn’t really know what a place was like unless you went there.

But I haven’t camped in years. Maybe because of my sleep apnea. Which went undiagnosed for years. I didn’t start to snore so bad until my ex-wife moved out. I woke up gulping for air for years, but I thought it was a sinus problem, I slept with the humidifier on. And then sharing a room with an engineer on a ski trip, he timed my breaths and I told my shrink and I still didn’t go for the sleep test. But then, months later, after my deductible was met, just before the end of the year, I went to the sleep clinic, and I’ve got it bad, real bad, 14, if you know what that means. And it took about a month to get used to the CPAP machine, but then in 2010 ResMed had a breakthrough, an automatically adjusting machine, and it’s so much easier today. But still, many people with sleep apnea won’t use the devices, I don’t know why. I used to be proud of myself, I could sleep on the shortest of flights, but now with the CPAP machine I feel like a superman, I have so much energy, I can’t imagine sleeping a whole night without it. Actually, I was in the Intercontinental Hotel in Toronto about ten years ago and the power went out and my machine wouldn’t work and it was one of the worst nights of my life, I hardly slept.

Which is all a long story to explain why I no longer camp.

Actually, the last time I did was in ’88. Long story, with my ex and her friend. I felt like the odd person out, it was the beginning of the end.

But I know the experience.

Like I’ve said, I went to college in Vermont, lived in Utah for two years thereafter, I know the back country.

But it’ll surprise you.

I wasn’t thinking of the stars when we got in the sleigh, I was thinking of the horse-drawn sleigh in Sun Valley, that takes you to Hemingway’s cabin, I did that back in ’75 with my parents. I was thinking of being cold.

And I was, we were. But we stretched those football capes around us, you know, like the players throw over their shoulders during a cold game, and when the sleigh left the station we were confronted with…


Orion’s Belt. The Milky Way.

I started to get excited, I started to smile. This was the real thing, nature.

No drug I’ve ever taken is close to a natural high.

And we’re so addicted to our devices that we rarely put ourselves out of range, in the wilderness, where we feel small and not powerful, but privileged to be there. That’s one thing about Mother Nature, she don’t care, she’ll freeze your butt off, the world is perilous.

And snow was kicking up from the PistenBully. But I couldn’t stop looking up. It wasn’t a Spielberg movie, it was the real thing. It’s there every night, assuming it’s clear. It was there before us, and it’ll be there after us.

And I’m not quite sure I want to go there, but I am overwhelmed by space.

Then again, not only did I camp in the sixties, we explored space. It was the computer science/tech of the day. Mercury, Gemini, Apollo. It seemed otherworldly. Back when America was a can-do nation. When our politicians were not people of ridicule, but those who got things done.

And when they walked on the moon…

It was hard to comprehend. Kinda like the power of your mobile handset today, the way we never lose touch with anybody in the world.

But the sky is different. It’s more about awe.

Seeing the Big Dipper in its winter position, low in the sky, at an angle.

And I’m no astronomer, but I was still speechless.

You shoulda been there.

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