Thursday, August 11, 2005
Nighttime, Half Moon Bay.
We drive silently along the highway with the brume hugging the pavement and the headlights reflecting orange, like the start of one of those low-budget horror films. Disembarking on the county beach parking lot, closed to visitors at this hour, for it is very late, past midnight, the fog envelops me completely, and a sharp, cold, small needle-like droplet hits my cheek. "It is raining!" I exclaim to my companion, who laughs and corrects me: "No, it is just the mist."
We walk along the darkened sand, me vainly looking up searching for the faintest trace of starlight, it is new moon and sky-watching conditions would be ideal, for we are in a clearing away from city lights, if it weren't for the wretched mist, which blurs all the surroundings and still reflects orange from the town of Half-Moon Bay already 10 miles north. Up front, the froth of the waves moves capriciously, we turn our flashlight off and in the darkness it looks like the elaborate lace of a ghost's poufy skirt, but still in this blurry darkness it is hard to tell how close you are to the water, and the clammy touch of cold on my now naked feet comes as a surprise.
I search the skies in vain for signs of the Pleiades and Perseus, which will give me the bearings necessary to locate what we've come here to see, but the sky is whitish gray, not a single cloud, just the hazy dispersion of unpolarized light on small water droplets, impossible and imperturbable. "Come, let's walk a bit", says my friend, as there is not much else left to do now, for the silence and the loneliness creeps up on you and engulfs you if you stay still for too long, despite the traces of ancient human presence in the faint smell of dying embers of an abandoned, unseen fire that reaches us sporadically in whiffs, or maybe, even, precisely because of this.
And it is then, that I see them. At every step, the sand sparkles silver under my weight, illuminated, just like those kids' sneakers that light up red when the child runs. Tiny crystals big as sand grains remain momentarily glowing under my footsteps, and after I play and dance delightedly for a bit in the moist fluorescent sand this friend chuckles and says "It is fun, walking behind you, because you leave these little shiny trails...".
And I approach the water again, and swirl the waves with my foot, and see that they too, leave a little lighted imprint of my movement, and the disappointment at the impenetrable sight of the night-sky and its absent stars vanishes immediately. "It must be some kind of algae", he, the Biologist, reflects.
But I smile to myself and think, no, it is here where they are, what we had come to see. The Perseids, the shooting stars debris of Comet Swift-Tuttle, tumbling across the sky every summer, for years and years and years every single August throughout the eons, end up here on this beach. We were just looking in the wrong direction.