Sunday, October 2, 2016

To Grasp the What

Tell me the exact number of times
that I have tried to look at the big picture.
My futile attempts at trying
to fathom the depth of the Mariana Trench, to
elevate my comprehension to 29,029 feet
above my own two,
to grasp the what that makes me crane
my neck for past suns during a night drive.
The what that makes me shudder
at abyssal cosmic scales and
surrender before deep geologic time,
astronomical time. 
That makes me marvel over my utter failure
to comprehend a billion.

Failed deduction motivates induction:
And thus no less are the times that I have tried,
in vain,
to understand
the multitudes hidden in nano and pico and femto.
Strings vibrating into particles forming atoms making molecules creating cells
Suddenly alive?
I have measured, observed, calculated, tested, falsified,
have reasoned.
I have trapped, have caged, have isolated, have abused,
have poisoned, killed, dissected, electrified!
I have repeated, repeated, repeated, repeated, repeated! 
I have thought!
I have assured you—and myself—that I know.
But the bigger lie was when I said
I understood.

The only thing I think
I understand now is that
they never needed us
and never will they.

And yet. There is your longing.
Your longing and mine
for Iberian lynx to procreate.
For a Yaak Valley unspoiled.
Our longing for Martha to ascend.
But is our longing about them?
Not maybe a mere longing
for them to need us?
For us to be needed?
That it might be our gaze that makes them important?
What would extinction mean
without us?

“There never was,” you say,
“anything else. Only these excruciatingly
insignificant creatures we love.”

I wrote this poetic exercise in response to Ellen Bass's "The Big Picture." The quoted section in the last stanza is taken from that poem.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Moon is a Reflector

[If you got no song playing right now, why not listen to Porches' dreamy dark-poppy "Car"?]

Okay, so maybe this time.

In this blog's last post I claimed that I might have to start writing about my August 2014 road trip through much of the Western US. As it turned out, I didn't have to; the urge could not outweigh the commitments I've had since then. School and stuff. Much has changed in the meantime, including the relative weights of the urge to write and the commitments that kept me from yielding to it. In absolute terms, the latter is still about the same, while the desire to write has increased considerably over the past two weeks. Despite recurring anxieties of maybe having lost it to the daily grind, I'm thinking now that, much like the moon, this desire wanes only in order to wax again.

If we would follow our little simile a bit farther, let's be clear that the moon is a reflector. It relies on the sun in order to shroud solitary back streets and rangelands in its pale charm. To complete our cosmic ensemble, we'll cast the Earth as the daily grind. You'll notice that the more it forces itself between the sun and the moon, the less reflection you'll get. It becomes increasingly difficult to see back streets and rangelands, to appreciate their distinguishing features.

For better or worse, life often lacks the regularity and reliability of the lunar cycle. It might therefore take longer than Lua's 29.5-day schedule for the occurrence of an event that is forceful enough to push the daily grind aside, allowing the writing urge to reflect whatever news are coming in. My temporary relocation to Tucson, Arizona, seems to be this event. I've come here to learn a thing or two about geography and (political) ecology, both as academic fields and in terms of exploring some Sonoran desert country right outside of Tucson.

And that change of scenery got me thinking. Mostly, and, maybe obviously, about the desert. But also, narcissistically, about me thinking about the desert. About why the clouds over Tucson might have appeared so different from the ones over Leipzig only for the first two days. About urban sprawl. About getting a dog. About taking up birding now in case I won't live to be 55. About whether or not YOLO may be a philosophy applicable to birding. And about the efficiency of bone-dry humor in writing.

My class workload is gonna be demanding on a constant basis. But then again, I remember this beer commercial promoting the importance of a healthy work-life balance. So I guess I'll write a few lines every now and then as long as the sun, the Earth, and the moon are aligned favorably.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Until I Say So, It's Not Over.

When I wrote this blog’s last entry, I thought I might pause posting for the weeks of travel that lay ahead of me. Those four weeks have turned into four months, and still the latest post is dated August 2, 2014. I’ve felt bad, lazy, and cowardly at least once a week ever since, but still didn’t find the proper motivation (a.k.a. the balls) to start an attempt at tackling what I had promised more people than just myself: to write about my road trip through the western United States.
The most plausible excuse I found for myself is that the change of scenery after leaving Cedar Falls has for some reason clogged the enthusiasm glands I’d developed for maintaining this blog since I’d arrived in the U.S. almost a year ago. Also, it is something very different to write about a weekend in Manhattan or my life in Athens and Cedar Falls than to convey something that is worth reading about the absurd surreality of Devil’s Tower, the boundless view onto the sun-baked Bighorn Basin, the incomprehensible infinity they insufficiently call Grand Canyon (this video features the Flitstones!) , or the awe and humility that take over as you--sitting in your tiny tent--witness a thunderstorm hitting the vast open desert. Writing about New England and, later, the Badlands and Black Hills, might have been comparable in genre, but not in breadth.

And now, back in Leipzig since early September, maybe what keeps me awake tonight is the feeling that these excuses are actually nothing but pretexts. If this impression persists, I might have no choice but to write.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I Have to Say Goodbye Way Too Often.

Today is my last day in Cedar Falls. In the few months I've lived here I had the chance to complete a great internship at the North American Review and--probably more importantly--I've met a couple of great people, some of them I wanna call my friends now.

Winning Trivia at the Octopus was grand, Mario Kart at Jordan's was a thrill, Skee-ball at Ginger was fun, darts and pickled eggs at Suds was great, darts without pickled eggs but with Whisky at that one place was almost as good as darts at Suds, just without the eggs, the Mario Party party at Zach's was a pleasure, hiking and spelunking in Maquoketa Caves State Park was beautiful, Trailer Park Boys at Jordan's was awesome, and I wouldn't wanna have missed that one WhiskyDogWednesday at the Octopus with all the dogs and all the whisky.
At the same time, the decision to leave is mine. I still/only have one month left in the U.S., so the inevitable road trip has to start. And saying goodbye does not get easier by staying longer.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Facing Loneliness and Buffalo

You're almost through! This is the last post about my weekend in the Badlands and the Black Hills in South Dakota. Missed the previous posts? Read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

If you want to listen to some music while reading, I recommend the following three songs. They're a part of this post later on.

Having spent the previous night on a campground with a young couple plus puppy in a tent close to me and an older couple in an RV farther down on the adjacent parking lot, I was looking for a bit more solitude again for my last night in South Dakota. Therefore, I had decided on exploring the Badlands’ Stronghold Unit this time. Studying the map, I had noticed that, in contrast to the North Unit, this southern part was absolutely empty. While the former is basically only two strips of stunningly beautiful rock formations to the left and right of the Badlands Loop Road plus the Wilderness Area (where, because of the name, I wasn’t so sure I should pitch a tent…), the Stronghold Unit is only tangentially touched by roads. In between, some 300 square miles or so of open land. Which is—say what you will—fascinating.

When I arrived in the small ‘town’ of Scenic (What you see on the photos following this link is basically all there is, minus the people. On a late overcast afternoon, it was eerie.), I followed the Bombing Range Road southward. This ride might have been the first time I ever felt lonely just because of the landscape that surrounded me. The area wasn’t that different from the North Unit that I had seen and camped in two days prior, but something in me turned it into a very different experience. 
Or maybe it was the exterior, the gloomy late afternoon atmosphere due to the cloudy sky, the sheer expanse of land in all directions without any sign of life, and the land’s general barrenness. Still, I was optimistic about parking my car at the White River Visitor Center and then hiking out until dusk to pitch my tent somewhere. That is, somewhere not too low or too high because the weather forecast announced a 50% chance of thunder storms for that night. 
In that case, you don’t wanna camp on a mountaintop and serve as a lightning rod, but you also don’t wanna be wrested away by a flash flood in a low area. Whatever, I would find a good place. So after twenty very long and lonely miles, I arrived at the visitor center which was, as I had read earlier, still closed. But that wasn’t the problem. What made me really grumpy was the sign that read “No Camping Anywhere.”
I suppose this restriction is due to the fact that the Stronghold Unit is situated within the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, but I don’t know for sure. The website clearly stated that camping is allowed anywhere as long as it is at least one mile away from the road. But apparently not here. So grumpy Carlo gets back into the car, drives the overwhelmingly lonely twenty miles back into the eerie ghost town and then turns right onto a thirteen and a half mile gravel road that leads to the Sage Creek Campground in the North Unit. Turns out that this wasn’t so bad after all.

The campground lies in a big open valley that is framed by hills on three sides and opens up to the prairie to the south. And although there were many campers here in RVs and tents, I was okay with the place because it was not much more than a small toilet building and a turning loop in the road. And, to my big surprise, four buffalo stood very close on a slope of the big western hill. This was the first time ever I saw buffalo in their natural habitat. And it was a contradictory presentation of that weighted term ‘wilderness’—I had never imagined the great American bison being as tame as to idle less than two hundred feet away from humans in the open range. I don’t think it’s bad; it’s just another instance where you feel tricked by countless cultural representations that have now been falsified by firsthand experience. Anyway, these four huge black bison were impressive creatures. And they wouldn’t be the last I’d encounter today.

After putting up my tent at what I interpreted as the campground’s periphery (there were no fences or anything, so I just went a little bit farther out than anyone else), I packed lightly and set out for a last little eastward hike through small patches of trees, then crossing the Sage Creek’s South Fork at a shallow spot—the water coppery in color, murky, and milky from the eroded sediments dissolved in it—and then traversing another stretch of prairie where I found hoof prints
bigger than the palm of my hand, pressed deep into the soil by an animal that might weigh up to a ton. I saw dark brown balls of fur shed by another or the very same bison, and I spotted a hole in the ground that probably marked the entrance of a prairie dog tunnel. Further on, I ascended one of the dozens of small hills, its top bare sandstone, torn open mosaic-like by the rain water it had once soaked in that was then drenched out of it again by the sun, making this hill appear like a mound formed of millions of potsherds. I’d planned to sit down and have dinner here, but I spotted another hill which I just had to climb, the highest in the vicinity, and with barely any vegetation on its slopes, looking like a huge pile of sand.

I scrambled up the side and sat down, facing eastward towards a landscape of great beauty. The pictures I took fail badly at recreating the impression that being in the place itself prompted in me. These photographs only hint at the actual extent of the land that stretches for miles in gentle waves of green, spotted with dark patches of shrubs, the bare ground showing through every now and then, until they are broken in the distance by the great sandstone cliff that is the ‘wall’ of the Badlands. 
The photos do not capture the soundscape that is, of course, just as important to the emotional response as the optical stimuli of a place. Imagine the crickets in the grass and the birds in the bushes, especially this one bird close by whose warbling made me look repeatedly for a creek below my feet because it sounded exactly like water dabbling over pebbles or a little fish jumping. (Yes, I was tricked by a bird!) Add to this the occasional bleating of a distant bighorn sheep and the mournful howling of at least three packs of coyotes scattered not too far away somewhere to the north. The only animals visible were the ones that didn’t care about making themselves heard; two small groups of buffalo stood complacently and peacefully in the distant northeastern grasslands. The air odorless and calm all the time.

Having finished the last of my tasty bread for dinner, I decided to go back to camp and read. It was half past seven, twilight was about to break, and the scenery couldn’t get any more beautiful, anyway. Or so I thought. Taking a small detour on my way back in order to avoid a buffalo, I walked along the hill’s ridge this time, and found not only a huge gnawed-off bone, but also a scared porcupine hiding under a conifer’s fallen branches.
I quickly left it in peace and then spotted a lonely camper sitting on a hillside, the tent some feet away, partly hidden in the shrubbery. She was just sitting there overlooking the country, and I considered walking over to say hi, but then decided against it. She probably had a reason for not staying on the campground. So I trudged on through the grass to my tent and, as soon as I was there, knew that I couldn’t turn in yet. There was another high hill to the campground’s northwestern side, and the day was still brighter than I had estimated.
I walked up the slope on grass and debris, carefully avoiding the cacti that grew in spots, and found myself on another hilltop overlooking the surrounding country, the same great sea of rolling green hills that I had marveled at earlier. However, I was not at all expecting the beautiful sunrise I would witness here for the next one and a half hours. It’s of little to no avail to try and describe the sunset in words; all the shades of yellow, rose, orange, and purple that tinged the sky and clouds, the fiery glow of the great sandstone wall on the eastern horizon.

Here, the photos might do a better job than an amateur blogger’s vocabulary. In addition, you should absolutely listen to three of the songs I played then—if you’re not already listening to them as you should. The Fleet Foxes' "The Plains/Bitter Dancer” is fitting for obvious reasons. I think that folk and folky music is generally the best choice for augmenting an experience in nature. One of my all-time favorites on Helplessness Blues (like almost every song on this exceptional album), this particular song has gained a new relevance for me that evening. 
Especially that double track’s second part that begins around 4:08 was the perfect acoustic complement to that scene. Next on our list, James Vincent McMorrow's “And if My Heart Should Somehow Stop.” Another great song on an exceptional album, Early in the Morning. I love the chorus’s “And in the forest I make my home/Lay down my heart on ancient stone.” But it’s more in the chords and harmonies, too elusive to put into words; this piece to me evokes a close connection to, and a longing for nature.
With the last song, it’s purely musical, not related to the content of the lyrics, and thus even harder to explain. “Cautioners” from Jimmy Eat World’s 2001 classic Bleed American, an album I’ve heard over and over again for over a decade by a band I’ve fallen in love with since I first heard said album. “Cautioners” took a little while to get me, but those songs are often the real gems on a record. I don’t exactly know why I chose to play this song sitting on the hill and watching the sunset, but it worked. It might seem odd in the beginning when you just hear that minimalistic drum loop and guitar dominated by the staccato bass (not so slightly reminiscent of the Knight Rider theme!). But when the piano sets in for the chorus and Jim Adkins sings, with his heartbroken voice, these unrelated but heartbreaking words:

You’ll change your mind come Monday
And turn your back on me
You’ll take your steps away with hesitance
And take your steps away from me

you should get it. And then the bridge after the second chorus! Beyond words. Of course, I didn’t listen to music all the time. Silence has to be cherished where it is found.

The sun still painted the clouds that were sailing across the sky’s vast expanse in a thousand shades of pink and rose, giving them a depth that is hidden in normal daylight. Some acquired fantastic shapes, and in one I saw a giant pig running slowly across the sky until it dissolved its form. As the last rays of the sun had disappeared in the west, I descended the hill in the dark and got into my tent, this time for good. A wind had come up that was now rattling and shaking my tent in sudden gusts so that it took me a while to fall asleep.

On Monday morning, I woke up early again. It was around seven, and I had planned nine hours for the way back home, plus an hour for anything unexpected. I packed my belongings, dumped the damp sleeping bag and tent in the trunk, and left the campground, ready to get back on the road. But then, not even half a mile from where I started, right where the gravel road makes a bend around my sunset hill from last night, I had to stop the car. Less than a hundred feet in front of me, a buffalo was blocking my wayIt just stood there, right on the road, mocking me with its utter disregard. It didn’t even do anything. It didn’t eat, it didn’t chew, it didn’t observe.
What to do?
I waited, but after some time I realized that this strategy wouldn’t pay off.
I moved the car closer, very slowly, up to fifty feet, so that I finally got a reaction.
It was turning its head to look at me for a moment.
I stopped.
It looked away again into the void, slipping back into buffalo standby.
Should I honk? Would that provoke the creature to start for me and trample the car?
Would that encourage its friend lying in the grass to get up and get mad?
Would my insurance cover buffalo damage?
Didn’t wanna risk it.
So again, a little bit closer.
Revving the engine a bit.
A look, nothing more.
But then! A step to the side!
Not enough yet, still blocking my way.
A bit closer again, now at less than thirty feet.
Another hesitant step to the side made me bold.
Closer, slowly.
Now two steps to the side, but still not quite giving up the road.
Now or never; it looked like I would have enough room between the animal and the car.
I drove by. Slow but steady was the way to go.
The buffalo looked bored.

Later, I passed hundreds of prairie dogs who were standing guard and eating and exploring on the vast grassland to the right of the road. Then, at a scenic outlook, there was a buffalo bull scratching his itchy hindquarters on a pole. Not so majestic.

He seemed embarrassed and slightly irritated when he noticed me. He gave me a look that said I better back off. I thought I’d better do as the bull suggested.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Frat Boys in the Wild

Number 4, and it's still not the last post about my weekend in the Badlands and the Black Hills! I think I need an editor. Missed posts number 1, 2, or 3?

I passed through hunting grounds
That Sunday morning, I awoke around 7 in my cold tent and, after realizing that cuddling up in my damp sleeping back wouldn’t really warm me through, I decided to break camp and get back on the road. The day before, I had picked Crow Peak Trail as my first destination for today. Located in the northern Black Hills, the summit would allow me a view not only on large parts of the national forest, but also into eastern Wyoming. And I really wanted to hike today. So after less than an hour’s drive I found Higgins Gulch Road southwest of the small town of Spearfish. According to the information I had, this gravel road was where I would find the trailhead to get to Crow Peak. Hmmhh, I drove a few minutes but only saw private properties to my left and right until I arrived at a sign that told me it was forbidden to go further in a private vehicle. So I went back, thinking I had just overlooked the trailhead. Nothing. But now that I was here, I didn’t just want to leave without trying, so I returned to the sign, parked my car, packed some water and food, and took off. I did not have a GPS signal here, so I could only guess that I might, with some luck, probably be on the right way. The road led out of the woods into an area where the gulch opened up with meadows to my right and a little creek to my left which the road then crossed at a shallow spot. With occasional forks in the road, I was not sure at all if this way would take me to Crow Peak Trail, but since these were a pretty area and a beautiful morning, I did not want to get back to the car yet. So I walked on, passed by a car every now and then, which I thought could only mean that these people probably owned land here and thus were allowed to drive past the sign I’d read. As the woods closed in after two miles or so, I entered the Black Hills National Forest again, but still no sign of a trailhead after walking for way more than half an hour now. Luckily, I didn’t lose heart. After walking through the woods for another 20 minutes, I saw a couple of cars parked and the trailhead next to them. So, like these folks, I could have ignored the sign and just driven here. But on the other hand, I generally subscribe to the idea that the journey is its own reward. And now the second part, the actual trail uphill, over rocks and roots, would begin.

halfway up
Aside from a few fellow ramblers I passed along the way, the trail was not very crowded. It was only sparsely covered by all the tall and slender pines growing on the hillside; as soon as I reached a certain elevation I could see the surrounding lands, the wooded hills near and far, the patches of grass, and the scattered grey rocks breaking through the ground every now and then. It might have taken me a little more than an hour to reach the summit. The trail was steep at times, and due to the relatively low temperature among the trees, I wore long pants, kinda baggy (Dickies, way too big for me, which I bought at WalMart for $9 just to have something sturdy to hike in when it’s too cold for shorts), and a jacket, feeling kind of stupid when I met a mom and her daughter on the sunny peak in tank tops and shorts. Anyway, we talked a little and they told me they’d moved to the Black Hills a couple of years ago from a small Iowa town. When they left I sat down on a rock and had my usual lunch: the still very tasty ciabatta-like bread I’d bought four days ago, some crackers and cheese spread. I took some photos and enjoyed the view, the solitude, the silence. It’s moments like these when awareness strikes me that I should make the most of right now. What that means, I don’t know. Maybe it’s just trying to be as conscious as possible, paying attention to everything that happens around you in the grass and the trees and the air. Acknowledging the privilege you’ve been granted. Being thankful.

Crow Peak, 5760 ft
After being thankful for a while, I heard voices and footsteps, and the little dog hastening ahead who carried his own tiny backpack signaled that it was the two girls I had passed earlier on. So I greeted them once more and ceded the summit to the trio. I realized that I had lost the spot where the trail leads onto the ridge, and I stumbled along through the trees for a bit but then found the path again. On my way down, the trail was packed with people; I met at least six parties, two of them comprised of annoyingly loud dudes showing off their studio-tanned-and-trained upper bodies to the single girl in their group. And these groups were the only ones who were barely willing to say hi while others commented on the weather or asked about the view from the summit. I’m not quite ready yet to incorporate frat guys into my image of the West. Other than being annoyed, I was mostly hoping to find someone non-fratty who would be willing to give me a ride back to my car. But right now, no one was leaving, so I walked back until, after maybe half the way, a car approached me, and I signaled to stop and asked if they would give me a ride, and the two guys said sure. We exchanged the usual where-are-you-froms and how-do-you-like-it-heres, and then they dropped me off at my car. First thing to do now, change clothes, and then get back on the road. I had half a day left, and there were great parts of the Badlands I hadn’t seen yet.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota

This is part 3 of my trip into the Badlands and the Black Hills. Missed part 1 or part 2?

Shortly after entering the Black Hills National Forest, a billboard reminded me of the Crazy Horse Memorial which is—like my initial goal, Mount Rushmore—also located right in these hills. So I modified my plans and drove a bit further to see the monument that might become the world’s largest sculpture when it’ll be finished some day. I had no idea that the sculpture itself is only one part of a huge complex (still very much in its infancy) that already features a museum and gallery and will eventually be home to the Indian University of North America, a Medical Training Center, a cultural center, recreational facilities, and more (see this image). Crazy Horse is much bigger than Mount Rushmore, but the only way to get really close (aside from special events, I think) is to either be a sculptor and work on it or take a shuttle that takes you a couple feet closer than you are allowed by yourself. Since I wanted to see a bit more today, I didn’t have too much time and decided to go see Mount Rushmore next.
Unusually well informed, I knew that instead of an admission, you have to pay $11 for parking at Mount Rushmore, so I took a roadside parking lot nearby and, after taking some photos of Mr. Washington’s supersized head (which was already visible from here), the beautiful pointed spires and the cliffs and the gulches and the conifers all around me, I walked about a quarter mile to get to the entrance. Considerably more people here than at Crazy Horse—senior citizens, couples, families, school classes, veterans. Passing the flag gallery (a flag for each state), I approached the monument that stood out mostly because of its gray color that distinguishes it from the raw and untreated red-brown rock of the mountain it was carved into. And it is pretty impressive, definitely worth a visit if you’re in the area. Otherwise, not. Don’t come here just to see four giant heads in a wall. I enjoyed the boardwalk (that brings you right underneath the faces so you can see up their noses) more because it was winding through immense fallen rocks and tall scrawny trees. Too much people here, though. So I thought, what to do next? Back to the Badlands, hike there, or spend the night in the Hills? 

I talked to a Park Ranger, inquiring about camping opportunities, and she told me that solitary back country camping is allowed here, but that these hills are home to mountain lions and stuff. Which is not really a problem, but you know, just so I know. Tempted by the prospect of more than 4 hours of sleep this night (i.e., without unwittingly invading animal territory), I decided to call some camp sites and ask about their prices. So she gave me a number to call. After listening to some Vivaldi for at least five minutes, someone answered the phone, and we were talking about camp sites for tonight until, after another five minutes or so, this gentleman told me that they are not handling camp sites in the Black Hills. Well, that’s what I told him where I was in the beginning, but I guess he just needed someone to talk to. Thanks anyway. Okay, so I accepted that, for better or worse, I’d have to drive around and just inquire at some camp sites (the Park Ranger’d given me a map) about their rates until I’d find a pretty and cheap one. 
So back to the car. This was the worst part of the day; I somehow got onto a road with the top layer missing, so my car sounded like a tank, and I couldn’t really drive at a convenient speed. The Black Hills is a much bigger area than I had expected. Which is cool in itself, but not if you just want to find a camp site for the night. I found one that seemed pretty expensive and one or two others that were completely booked, so I had to go to another one—Custer Trail Campground—that I’d marked on my map, and this one was almost empty, right by the pretty Deerfield Lake in the middle of woods and hills, and ‘only’ $14. Deal! Looking for an office or a booth to pay my money, I only found a box, some envelopes, and a manual that instructed me to fill out the form on the envelope’s back and put my money in, then throw it into the box. This is probably the only place in America where you cannot pay with a credit card. And I usually even prefer paying cash, but right here, my problem was that I only had $20 bills. And no one who could change it. Okay, so $6 down the drain...

Having pitched my tent and watched three baby squirrels chase each other along the top rail of the primitive wooden fence around the camp ground, I set out to explore the area around the lake a bit. After less than a ten minute walk, from the top of a hill, I had a beautiful view on the green pastures and dark groves around me, the lake to the south, and the wooded hills that enclosed this place to all sides. I went a bit farther and sat on the side of a little creek right where it runs into the lake, had some dinner and read The House of the Seven Gables, all the time accompanied by four wild geese thirty or forty feet to my right. Then all of a sudden a small herd of five or six deer emerged out of a bigger grove to my left, one after the other, a few of them regarding me for a moment with alert big black eyes, and then walking on.

Around 9 p.m., I once more gave in to my fascination with water during twilight and sat on the floating wooden landing stage just a few inches above the surface. In completely still air, the lake was a huge dark mirror that reflected the even darker woods along its shores. The water lay perfectly smooth and plain except for one patch a couple of feet away from the jetty where the surface was constantly rippled for whatever reason (You might have witnessed something like this before on a lake, I have no idea how to explain this). A very general and all-encompassing silence—a tranquility?—was frequently broken by the bored croaking of toads, the bustling chirping of grasshoppers, and the excited splatter of jumping fish. From the woods, the occasional hoot of a nighthawk or an owl. In the distance, two or three pallid blue ridges of wooded hills gradually disappear as it gets truly dark. Neither stars nor moon tonight, only a solitary beacon on a summit very far away. Winds come up, gently stirring the lake. I decide it won’t get any darker tonight; I switch on my flashlight and go to sleep.