it wasn't the usual feeling of being suddenly alert; something physical woke me
Stick with me on this one, it's not another space jaunt even though it may seem to start out that way. Although...
I get up early every day, typically between 4 and 5 AM, sometimes earlier. This morning I woke up at 2:30, and I've learned when that happens to just go with it. Left to its own my body seems to need about five hours' sleep most nights, though sometimes longer. There's no reason to fight it with my flexible existence down here.
But this morning it wasn't the usual feeling of being suddenly alert; something physical woke me. I'll get to that in a minute. The first thing I noticed, once I realized that, yes, I wasn't going back to sleep so I may as well get my feet on the floor, was a light outside the house. We have a motion-sensor flood light in the yard, and when it goes off in the middle of the night it's typically a deer wandering through. It's not intrusive enough through the bedroom windows to wake me up by itself, but it is plenty bright. And the light I could see being cast downstairs from the kitchen was too bright for any natural light.
Except it wasn't. You'd think after four years I'd recognize it, but it turned out the security light was not on. No light was. What I was seeing was coming purely from the Moon.
That's how dark the night sky is here. It's shocking when you come from a city that never truly sleeps, unlike Brookings where there's not a single 24-hour business in town. But don't get the impression our house is swathed in black. It never is. The yard is completely surrounded by rain forest so thick we can't see any of our neighbors' homes, but even on moonless nights, the starshine is enough to make out most features on the property. When the Moon is out you could literally read by it. It has fooled me into thinking the flood light was on many times, but even so, it's so unexpected that it still catches me after all this time.
But it wasn't the Moon that woke me. I had been dreaming of a skiing trip with my grandfather who passed away in 1999. We were just headed to the slopes, and he was handing us all something--it looked like a chunk of dry ice, though I'm not sure why that would be. Its purpose though was clear. The ski resort was at high elevation, and breathing the fumes coming off these chunks made up for the paucity of oxygen and let you breathe normally. My grandfather was that kind of man--generous, no-nonsense, and always prepared.
When I woke up, the reason for the dream was apparent. One of my sinuses was so closed up I could only breathe on one side. A few minutes of traipsing around the house upright cleared that, and I was left with the dream's deeper meaning.
I held a special fondness for my grandfather. I mentioned before that he was the only person who ever read my first novel manuscript. But that wasn't the source of my regard. He was the most fearless and forthright man I ever met, imbued with unshakeable integrity. (Happily, those traits were inherited by my father.) He could seem harsh, but only because he always spoke the plain truth. And the truth hurts, as they say, at least a good share of the time.
Our personalities were fiercely opposed, but we still had a lot in common. He was a huge fan of science fiction, which now seems anathema to his knothead-intolerant demeanor. In fact it was he who turned me on to sci-fi, in the form of paperback novels left on a bookshelf in a lakeside cabin he built with help from my dad and his brothers. I still have two of those books that I stuffed in my suitcase at the end of a visit there.
A decade and a half later, my grandfaher's absence still leaves a void in the world. I wish he could have met the man I have become. I hope someday he will. -Mark