I have no pictures, for it was darker than black. We were in the scrub lands of north western Florida near Cedar Key. A place known for it’s ability to remain one of the few towns without light pollution. For a week my boyfriend and I had trailed after(stalked) about 15 amateur astronomers as they set up their telescopes each night to let the public view the wonders of the universe. We saw the miracles of God, planets, constellations, galaxies, it was incredible!
On the last two nights of Dark Sky Week, the astronomers offered a tour of the skies by riding on the back of a hay wagon, pulled by a truck through the scrub. The lights on the truck were turned off to help create dark. There was an astronomer on the truck, and a naturalist on the back of the wagon. You could hear each talk, they took turns. We drove out into the scrub as the lavender sky turned to royal blue, as blue went to black. Quietness surrounded us. The call of an owl. The bark of a coyote. The low bellow of an alligator off in the distance. The low rumbling hum of the truck motor. It seemed we were miles from no where. Every once in a while the truck would pull us through water, and we could hear the gentle splash of tiny waves against the tires. And then…
We were stuck. The truck revved up it’s engine, but we could not go forward. The driver put the truck in reverse, and we could not go backward. It appeared we were too back heavy in the wagon to get the truck out of the creek, and we were asked to get off the back of the wagon. It was dark, and the naturalist had one flash light. He shone it on the ground as we disembarked our now sinking wagon. We had been driving along a dirt road, so in the center of the truck’s ruts there was a dry strip of land. The first person off stood by the truck, the second person got right behind them, so that by the time I was off I had to walk past 25 people to stand at the end of the line. Last one in the line. No one behind me. The growl of a wild cat. The bellow of the alligator. I said to no one in particular—“This is like Disney” and a voice in the darkness said, “Yes, but at Disney the alligators don’t eat you.” Everyone laughed, releasing the nervousness back into the night.
The driver wenched the truck to the largest tree he could find and pulled the truck and wagon out, and we filed forward through the waters back onto the truck. Loaded ourselves like soggy baggage on to the wagon and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of the excursion. It will be something I will remember the rest of my life, for so rarely do we go into the darkness, surround ourselves with beauty and danger, and experience the true companionship of our fellow man.
That year my boyfriend, now husband, got a telescope for Christmas. I joined NAMN (North American Meteor Network), and we have since introduced our neighbors and friends to the glory of the night skies.