Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. —Thoreau, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” in Walden
At twilight I stood on the dock, looking out over the lake. Off in the distance a loon sounded its hallowed haunting cry. Overhead, the first of the evening stars appeared. The steady light in the western sky I judged to be a planet — most likely Venus.
“Permission to come aboard.” A low voice sounded behind me.
I laughed and greeted my host and friend: “Permission granted.”
The dock rolled slightly with his step; I flexed my knees to keep my footing.
“How about a night-time paddle on the lake?”
“Sure; let’s go.”
I undid the bow painter from the cleat; and we stepped into the canoe, pushed off and slipped out into the still water.
Between the rhythmic paddle strokes you could hear tiny wavelets gurgling at the bow as they rushed along beneath the boat. As the band of light on the western horizon grew more and more narrow above the silhouetted pines, the stars came out in the broad expanse of sky.
“There’s the Big Dipper,” I said, pointing up ahead.
“Did you see the recent supernova?”
“No, I didn’t get out, but it’s supposed to be visible with binoculars. There’s Polaris and the Little Dipper.”
“I can’t make it out.”
“It’s upside down. Imagine it pouring into the Big Dipper below.”
“Now I see it.”
We continued along in the darkness into the widest part of the lake. Stars were visible at the horizon, points of light I had never seen back home, where the light pollution from our towns and cities puts out the dimmer stars.
We sat in silence on the still water and marveled at the splendor of the night sky. The notes of an owl sounded from the shore; a loon laughed in the darkness. Slowly, the canoe drifted around. Above the southeastern horizon the teapot of Sagittarius tipped toward Scorpio’s fishhook tail.
We navigated back to the dock in the dark, following the Milky Way.
“Look, you can see the stars reflected in the lake!”
We studied the points of light strewn like diamonds below the gunwales, precious gems shining in the black water. The heavens were visible under our feet as well as above our heads.
We passed the island in the dark, taking care to avoid the rocky spine that traversed the length of the lake. Shortly, we bumped against the dock. Securing the canoe to the cleat, we stood up, feeling the dock bobbing beneath our feet.
Nearby, in the woods below the cottage, whip-poor-wills began their nocturnal serenade.