Note: The gate at the conservation area closes promptly now at 5. No more stargazing there. If that policy had been in effect last year this story would never have been written.
As evening falls C and I, dressed in protective layers and hooded against the cold, gaze at the scattered lights of Athens twinkling on the other side of the river against the black Catskills ridge. We’re the last ones left at the preserve at this hour. Though town’s not far it feels as though we’re the only people for miles around. Alone by ourselves we turn and make our way back along the path to where we parked, C a tall lanky figure dimly visible a few steps ahead of me. Gazing out across the ice-sheeted terrain that surrounds us, I experience a sudden, dizzying sense that time and space have sharply shifted, cracked, and sheared. It’s C and it’s me, but it’s not five-thirty on a weekday, folks headed home. It’s a vast, epochal night in time. We are early humans ranged north to arctic latitudes, astronauts ventured onto the face of a tundral planet.
Suspended above us floats a sheer half moon. C asks if I had seen the alignment, weeks ago, of Venus, Jupiter, and the moon, a rare, celebrated event whose technical term he’s forgotten. I remember a pitch black night before I met C, the surprising sight of two bright dots clustered beneath a thin crescent beam. C tells me that as the heavens have pivoted since – he spreads his arms and tilts to demonstrate - the planets are moving apart. He points out one of the planets, farflung now in the western sky. C tells me that he was astonished to see a photo of the event as seen from Australia, where the two planets appeared above the moon, the reverse of here.
We trample along the snowcovered paths, circling past fields and silent woods. It’s a paradox that when we’re together he’s very vivid to me, but that afterwards I can’t remember his face clearly. I’ve rarely seen him without his jacket zipped to his chin and hat covering his brow. I see his eyes (but what color are they?) and his nose, mostly in profile. We walk side by side, or one of us ahead of the other. One day I glimpse a wisp of beard in the cleft of his chin, the next day it seems it’s gone, so did I imagine it?
Since these days I only see C bundled head to toe, I regard it as a gift to have a vivid, contrasting image of him. (At least – I hope it’s him!)
A memory surfaces, from the summer before last, when I worked on L’s campaign. It’s a typical day, and I am sitting at my desk in the back of the storefront space. The office is noisy with fans. Thin white sheets hung at the windows, luminous scrims, flutter in the breeze. Someone tries the entrance and I look up from my work. The knob gives, the door opens, and in steps a man I haven’t seen before. He wears shinlength cargos, a sleeveless tank, and sandals, and he pauses for a moment in the doorway, smiling. Bathed in light, long-limbed and lean, he’s an unexpected sight for a workaday afternoon, as though he’s come from a day at the shore. Everything about him, his hair, his tan, is golden, a ray of sun in human form. I imagine he’s what a mythical being would look like, wholly natural yet not quite of the earthly realm, borne in upon the waves.
L greets him warmly, Hey C, and beckons him to her office. He follows in an easygoing, graceful lope, around the corner to the other room, past me.
The other day, as we make our way through depths of snow, C happens to mention that the California surf look is his style. When he says this I think: my memory is right. That must have been him.
I play with these contrasting images, Winter C and Summer C, and combine them with Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. In my reimagined painting, it’s winter, past twilight, and snow is on the ground. The Catskills, rimmed with orange and dark, are dotted with the votive lights of a mythical Athens, lights sprinkled like stars, or like the roses tossed in the waves of the Botticelli. C, a golden, lightly clad beachbum Adonis, stands not on a scallop shell, or even a surfboard, but on one of those large colorful discs that I’ve seen children play on in the snow. Is that a snowboard, something C has mentioned to me he likes to do? I learn online that a snowboard isn’t round but rather oblong, like a boogieboard.
A coincidence: C posts a sign at the conservation area, suggesting in a spare, heartfelt way that owners pick up after their dogs. From this sign I learn C’s last name, that he has a nice printed hand, that signs can be disarmingly simple (marker on a cardboard scrap), and that amazingly he has followed up on our conversation the day before about the mindless befouling of the pristine snowscape.
I turn on the TV when I get home, The News Hour or maybe it’s the BBC. I don’t pay attention to the droned list of underwriters, one of which is a private foundation whose mission the voiceover does not state but whose offices (as we are, irrelevantly I think, informed) are in New York; Stowe, Vermont; and Honolulu. I picture an athletic, peripatetic family established in a permanent orbit, relative to season, obligation, and whim, circling from an uptown mansion aerie to one and by turns the other comfortable retreat in a farflung, opposite Eden.
My mind performs unconscious geometry and suddenly I’m heeding the words as they’re spoken and appear on the screen. The foundation and C have the same name, C once lived in Manhattan, and Vermont and Hawaii now suggest nothing if not places to snowboard or to surf. I assume it’s all a coincidence, yet it surprises me. I can’t shake the sense that the connections seem weirdly, if obscurely significant.
In the celestial blue of my Botticelli night-sky, Venus and Jupiter align above an upturned crescent moon, forming the image, as in southern latitudes, of a benevolent face. Spring, summer, fall, and winter, the face smiles down on C, in whatever place, real or imagined, that he may happen to be.
Image of man in doorway (above):
Giovanni DiMola, il primo capitolo (the first chapter)