or Where Is M. C. Escher When We Need Him?
I've been spending many evenings on the patio lately, and have made it a point to be there in time to see the stars come out. It’s not exactly a hardship. The evenings have been delightful, with glowing sunsets, cool breezes, and no—count them, no—mosquitoes. I like twilight, the way colors and shapes stand out differently than they do in full sun. The disks of coronation gold yarrow turn into pale spaceships hovering around the birdbath; the hot pink of Wild Thing autumn sage, the diva of daytime, gives way to the white starlets of apple-blossom grass, bowing on their invisible stems. I love the moment—it always seems to come suddenly—when it becomes clear that I can no longer see to read my book, and that I may as well give myself to sensory pleasure. At that moment, I lean back in my Adirondack chair and watch the sky, waiting for the moment when the first star appears.
“Appears.” What a misleading word—as if the star hasn’t been there all along. More accurately, it is only once the interfering rays of sunlight have faded that our eyes can penetrate the distance and see another take on reality.
It reminds me of the annual road trips I used to take each May from Ithaca, New York, where I was a student, back home to Colorado. I was always so eager for my first glimpse of the Rockies—emblems of home to anyone who grew up along the front range. You'd think that they would first appear on the horizon as small bumps, growing slowly larger as you drew nearer. Instead, they materialize all at once. One minute you’re traversing unbroken prairie; the next your eye can finally penetrate the haze of distance, and the mountains are there—fully, gloriously, spectacularly there, the peak of Mount Evans glimmering with snow, all 14,264 feet of it towering above the plains. You realize that the mountains have been there right in front of you for miles, but your eye was too limited to see them.
I could draw the obvious inferences here—“through a mirror darkly” and all that—but I’ll leave you to do that for yourself, if you're so inclined. I simply want to return to the sense of startlement that can lie buried in the quotidian: in the setting of the sun, the shining of the stars; the shift in perspective that transition brings.
The moment you realize that what you’ve been looking at and what you’ve been seeing are two completely different things.