Oh, yeah, I went to this Buddhist retreat, and there was a lot of meditating and a lot of Noble Silence, and it was a great time all the way around, but what I remember most are the stars.
I live in Dallas. It's a fine place to live, but there's so much light here. It's humid and light bounces off the water in the air and at nine at night it can look like twilight. If you see a star, it's either really bright or it's a comet that's burst through the outer stratosphere and is plummeting toward Earth, due to explode a thousand feet up and take out thousands of trees in a repeat of Tunguska that practically screams you'll be late for work tomorrow, er, if you're not dead.
But this place. Oh my God.
We were eighty miles out of Dallas. We could see it, glowing on the horizon like a nuclear plant with serious problems, but it was far away. Standing out in a field on the prairie just a mile or so from the Red River, we looked up and saw stars. Hundreds and thousands of stars.
"There's a thousand stars in the night sky, I wonder which one could be yours." --Big Country, "The Broken Promise Land"
It takes a human eyeball about forty minutes to fully acclimate to the darkness. I spent the forty minutes lying on my back in the field, staring up at the sky. I only pried myself away to go to bed because it was freezing cold and at some point I needed to get some sleep. (Yes, sleeping in the field was an option, but there were cows, and cows, though they aren't very bright, are extremely curious. Imagine waking up at three a.m. to find a heifer nosing your forehead. One might never lie on one's back in a field again.)
I was back in the field the following morning for some walking meditation. I lay down on my back again, and my sweater rode up on my stomach. After a while I felt something walking around on me. I looked down (not very easy, with the breasts the size of Montana; I kind of had to flatten 'em and move them to one side) and beheld a very tiny grasshopper. It was maybe the size of my little fingernail, bright green, wide-eyed and moseying around on my stomach in a just-hatched sort of way.
"You might want to watch out," I told it. "I'm a mass murderer." (When I was a kid, grasshoppers infested the mint and asparagus plants in our backyard. I must have killed thousands of them. I've felt bad about this ever since.) The grasshopper did not seem alarmed. Neither did another one that hopped up next to the first one. So I shut my mouth and just watched them until they hopped off and disappeared into the grass.
I wonder if I've been forgiven.
Anyway, I had a pretty good time at the retreat, in case this isn't obvious. And I caught a stomach bug. Well, that wasn't so great, but I guess into every intestine a stomach bug must fall. Maybe it was the vegetarian food. I've always preferred they take it easy on the vegetarian.
Coincidentally, Joan and I are sneaking out of town this weekend for her birthday. We're going to Bonham, and that's not far from the retreat center. I've already emailed them to see if we can stop by and look at the stars. Answer: Yes.