Thursday, March 22, 2012


In high school I had a friend, Sean, who owned a boat.  Sean and I used to go out on the boat all the time, literally.  Every night in the summer.  There are about a million stories that I could tell about us on that boat.  About buoy rocking and hitting shoal markers then blaming the bent prop on his older brother, and about how we were both so terrified of the dock spiders that when we finally got back to his house neither of us would grab the dock because we were sure a spider would run up our arm.  Seriously, a million stories.

But tonight I am reminded of the nights when we did nothing.  On a boat, it is really easy to do nothing.  You go slowly until you find a bay, then you drop the anchor and do nothing.  Sometimes, when it was really warm, we would get in the water.  The amazing thing about the river is that during the day it is freezing, but at night--in a shallow bay--it is always warm.  Bathwater warm.  Snuggle under the covers on a cool night in late Autumn warm.  Best feeling in the world warm.  So sometimes we would get in the water and swim around the boat.  Sean used to talk about River Llamas.  I cannot make this shit up, I swear.  I have no idea what they were supposed to be, but they were out there.  Just sort of hanging out beneath the water, waiting to grab your legs, or maybe not.  It was never clear if the Llamas were actually dangerous.  They probably weren't.  But they were there, and they were enough for me to keep my legs as close to the surface as possible.  You know, just in case.

After we swam, we would always climb (super uncoordinatedly) back into the boat.  Sean had a 15 foot Whaler, maybe 18. It had a tiny console but no cabin, or seat; just two wooden benches, one fore and one aft.  And an outboard motor that would get tangled with seaweed--and once got seriously banged up on a shoal, but we never admitted to that, ever.  We were both looking out for the buoy, and somehow missed the fact that it was dead in front of us.  At least we didn't miss out curfew.  We would crawl out of the warm water, back onto the desk of the boat, and wiggle back into our clothes ( we always, always wore bathing suits--no matter what we were planning, the assumption was that we would end up in the river at least once), then lay there and stare up into the night sky.

If you have never been out in the middle of nowhere, on a boat in floating in the middle of one of the largest rivers in the world, you have never seen the night sky.  You have no idea what it is like to look up and see STARS.  Stars like they are the only thing that exists anymore, like there is no sky, only layer and layer of pinpoints of light.  All twinkling back at you from a thousand years ago.  Half of what you see probably isn't even there any more, but you see it, like looking into the past.

We knew almost nothing about astronomy.  I still know almost nothing about it, but maybe Sean does now.  I don't know.  But it never mattered to us, because we weren't really looking for the stars, we were looking for the satellites.  It seems like such a silly but wonderful thing now.  I can't even explain it, but it was so important then.  We would lie there forever, staring up at the night, looking for the outliers.  In the midst of all those stars there was always the thing that was not like the others.  The tiny pinpoint of light that moved, that trailed across the night, through the true stars, a tether to the Earth.  And we would try to find them, it was like a competition: who can spot it first?  It was like being able to spot the imposter, the one who didn't belong, the intruder in our beautiful, perfect night. 

Sean and I haven't talked in a long, long time.  In truth, I almost never think of him and those nights in the boat.  But sometimes I do.  Sometimes the night is just right, and the stars are oh so familiar, and it all comes back.  Nights like tonight, when I sit out on my porch, and the air is just colder than I think the river would be, and the stars are out.  Of course, in Somerville the stars are never "out" like they are on the river; here they are hidden, drowned out by the lights of the city.  Only the brightest can be seen, but sometimes it is enough.  It makes me remember those nights, spotting satellites, thinking that there was nothing else in the universe except us and the stars and the dock spiders.  And I am happy when I remember that.  I am sad, too, because the summer always ended.  We always had to get the boat back and brave the spiders guarding the dock, and head home in Sean's giant Ford Bronco that never had enough gas in it to get me home.

But tonight those stars were there, reminding me of those nights, right down to the smell of the river and the feel of the fiberglass deck underneath me.  And I even spotted a few airplanes--not the same as satellites, but the best I can hope for in the city.  For now, until the night I get home, and head out in my own boat, and get to stare up at the night sky one more time.     


  1. It's so funny to read this because I was just looking at an infographic about space and all that good stuff.

    Kind of amazing that big out there...sometimes it's too much to think about and not start to go off on those philosophical tangents in your mind.


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