The Skies In My Life

Image by M. Maggs from Pixabay

If I could write poetry now would be a good time. But I can’t. Still, I can wax prosaic and tell my stories about the skies in my life.

The Northern Lights

I knew that I lived too far south to ever see the northern lights. But one evening I had two kinds of visitors.

One kind was human. A family had come from Cuba during the Marielito boatlift, and ended up in my town, Portland Oregon. Somehow they made their way into our backyard one evening, I don’t recall how the introduction was made, but fortunately my wife and I both spoke Spanish. It was a good Cuban family, father, mother, and a boy and a girl.

We were in my backyard when the other unexpected visitor appeared. The northern lights. We were standing around the barbecue when the Cubans excitedly pointed to the sky, exclaiming. I looked and saw wisps of clouds in the night sky, and said so.

I’m profoundly colorblind. How was I supposed to know that those ‘clouds’ were actually the fabled northern lights flashing different colors. I suppose different colors.

I never had an opportunity to tell my new Cuban friends that I’d made a mistake that night.
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If someone were to teleport me to certain locales at midnight, I could look at the sky and tell them where I was.

I’d know when I was in the high Sierras. The Sierra Nevada mountains in California, up near Mt. Whitney. OMG the sky is so close up there! Photos don’t do it justice. Nevertheless here’s a photo that shows the brilliant stripe the Milky Way puts across the black sky. It’s the blackness of the sky in between stars that photos can’t seem to capture:

Image by Ken Teneri from Pixabay

The advantage of stargazing from mountaintops two miles in altitude is that most all the air is down below you. There’s just enough air up there to breathe. The milky way is breathtaking. It presses you right between the eyes. I don’t know what that means, but it’s a sensation I always felt.

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I’ve seen the night sky in various places in the U.S. and Mexico. But the sky in Panamá — Oh My God! I can’t describe it (yes I can).

The sky in Panamá is *right there.* Like you could reach up and grab a star. And where I live in Panamá there are no airplanes to disturb the vista or emplace vapor trails.

The sky seems very close and the horizon seems very far; both are illusions. Latin America is full of illusions.

Sometimes at night I’ll look at a mountain on the horizon, with lightning flashes right behind it. But by day I see that it’s just another monstrously huge Panamanian tree, and I know that the lightning I see at night is usually far to the north and east, closer to the Caribbean side of the isthmus of Panamá.

It’s now 5:30 am here in Los Bosques. The sky is lightening in the east. In a half hour I can go look at my gardens out front. To see if the bed of lentils has sprouted, and how much the weeds have grown overnight. This place is fecund. I’d comment that fecund isn’t a swear word, but in terms of weeds and insects in my bed I’ll swear that it is.

Good morning and goodbye. I promise to write again.
… Fred



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Fred Ermlich

Fred Ermlich

Living in rural Panamá — non-extractive, non-capitalistic. Expat USA. Scientist, writer, researcher, teacher. STEM mentor +languages.