Gabriel Morris in India

Gabriel Morris in India
A mysterious cave in south India.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Going to Asia for the winter (click here to follow my travels on Facebook)

I will be traveling to Asia for the winter. In October, 2010 I fly to the Philippines for 3 weeks, and will be spending most of my time there in the stunning Palawan region. From there I will fly to the small city of Kota Kinabalu on the island of Borneo, Malaysia for a week. Then I fly to Bali and will be there (and other islands in that area) for 3 weeks. After that I fly to Kuala Lumpur, the largest city in Malaysia for a week. And then I'll fly to New Delhi, India. At this point I'm planning to spend the whole winter in India, staying mostly in one little village on the Ganges River, practicing yoga and meditation, writing and all-around relaxing and chilling out. I will be documenting my travels with photos, videos, travel stories, etc. on Facebook. Click the subject line above to join my group devoted to my trip, and follow the adventures.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Man Who Stood Alone in the Crowd (Click here for more info)

This is one of the short fiction stories from my book "I Leapt Into the Night, and Ten Other Stories"...



"The Man Who Stood Alone In the Crowd"


There was once a man who stood by himself within a large throng of people. He was a little off to the side of the crowd, so as not to be too conspicuous—but near enough to the center that it was obvious he was in the crowd, and not at all separate from it. The crowd was nestled all around him, its gentle hum buzzing in his ears.

The crowd was all the man had ever known, and he thrived on its familiarity. Ironically, however, he was not much the talking type. He chose, as much as he could help it, not to contribute to the buzzing of the crowd he so enjoyed. He preferred simply to experience the crowd, and yet remain detached to some extent, an observer from within.

Since he could remember nothing else, he could scarcely imagine life outside of the crowd. The crowd was everything to him. It was the only world he could conceive of, and whenever he was reminded of how much he enjoyed the crowd—which was often—he would revel in its comforting embrace like a bird curling up in a warm nest, or a baby hidden deep inside the womb.

Since this man chose to stand alone within the crowd, he had plenty of time in which to ponder. Sometimes he thought about how nice it was to be in the crowd. Sometimes he thought about moving to another part of the crowd, just for a change—in which case he would generally do so, with an occasional “pardon me, ma’am” and “excuse me, sir, mind your drink!” Although he didn’t talk much, he had well-refined manners from so much listening to the people crowded around him.

Sometimes he even pondered, or at least imagined, life outside of the crowd. On one particular day, he was thinking about the time when he had actually had the urge to leave the crowd. Out of a clear blue sky, a sudden faltering within his mind made him wonder if he should flee from all these people gathered together in the crowd. He had been there in the crowd for so long, it occurred to him, for some reason, that he might be missing something interesting or important outside of the crowd.

But then, he had thought about where he might go if he left the crowd, and this disturbing possibility perplexed and confused him so much that he’d decided rather abruptly just to stay put. He didn’t much like perplexion or confusion. He didn’t see the point in it, and didn’t need any more complications in his life. The time a friend of his had asked if he would care to join him for a game of backgammon at his house had been enough to remind him of all the unpleasantness of the outside world. Leave the crowd? Of course not! What would he find out there? Probably more friends, who would ask him over for tennis, ask him to listen to their music, invite him to go swimming or go for a drive into the country. Soon enough he would be in some foreign land, where even the crowds themselves were unrecognizable.

No. It was too much. Too frightening even to consider. He must stop these nonsensical notions of leaving the crowd. It was much safer simply to remain there. He had everything he needed right there in the crowd—so why leave?

With that conclusion, he thought long and hard then about how nice it was just to be there inside the crowd. It made him so happy being amongst all those friendly people, that the man huddled up against the person next to him, who was trying to make a very important business deal, and he stepped on his foot, which surprised the businessman, causing him to spill his drink down the front of the man he was talking to, insulting him greatly so that he refused to close the deal, which put the businessman into a deep depression that left him incapable to work, so that his wife and kids finally left him for a plumber from Chicago whom she had secretly been seeing the last two years, which of course resulted in the businessman’s eventual suicide.

“Sorry,” said the man standing alone in the crowd.

Eventually, the crowd began to thin out. This did happen occasionally, although fortunately it never disappeared entirely. The crowd merely fluctuated between sparse and dense. The man who stood alone was always a little more nervous when the crowd was smaller, than after a big event when the entire town it seemed was there to join him. But he never really worried too much, because if it came down to only him left in the crowd—well, then he would be a one man-crowd. He’d heard of a one-man-band before. What was the difference? Nothing, really. As long as he was part of a crowd of some sort, then he was safe and secure. And besides, the people would always return eventually, and then he would be even more thankful for the comfort of the crowd.

It was early one May, as the sun was shining majestically overhead and the birds were fluttering from tree to tree, chirping their melodies to the people of the crowd, that the man had a sudden, unexpected desire. He had never experienced it before. He’d heard about it, of course. But he had assumed, out of ignorance perhaps or just innocence, that he was an exception to the rule. He would often hear in the middle of a nearby conversation, “Hey, Ralph, I’m a bit famished—shall we get a bite?” Or something of the sort. And then, they would be gone—only to return sometime later, revived and relaxed, as if nothing really had happened.

He thought it so curious, even a bit disrespectful for these people to simply leave the crowd like that and then return so nonchalantly, as if they knew the crowd would be there when they returned and they could just come and go as they pleased. Didn’t they feel such a devotion to the crowd as himself? What if everyone chose to leave the crowd—even him—and then there was no crowd at all? What then?

But all of a sudden, in the midst of an otherwise contented and satisfying life, he found himself experiencing this inner need, this growling within his bowels that he had only heard about before, but which he had, in fact, dreaded unconsciously for a long time. He’d known it might happen to him. But he’d hoped simply to ignore it when it did. Like the waxing and waning of the crowd itself, this feeling, too, would come and then go. But no—it wouldn’t. And he knew then that it wouldn’t and that he must satisfy it, for it was gnawing inside him and seemed only to be growing stronger.

He was filled with fear at the prospect of solving the dilemma before him. He didn’t know what to do. He knew that people always left the crowd when this happened. But he didn’t know where they went or what they did out there. He knew only that he must take action. The rest he would discover soon enough.

He lifted his right foot, which had been planted in the same position for a long while by then, and moved it forwards. His brow was sweating. His hands were shaking. “My God, I never thought it would be so hard,” he thought. He hadn’t. He had thought it would be easy, that he could have left the crowd anytime he wanted, that it was only by choice he had stayed.

He paused for a moment and fixed his tie, as he readied himself for the next step. Finally, strategically, he lifted his left foot to place it in front of the right. He repeated this action, and then repeated it again. It took every ounce of courage and concentration he could muster for him to walk, slowly, to the edge of the crowd. But he kept his head up and his feet moving, and with an “excuse me” here and a “pardon me” there, soon enough he was standing on the edge of the crowd.

He thought long and hard then about the decision at hand. It was a whole new world from here, past the edge of the crowd. It was that foreign land he had feared he might someday find himself in. But he had to face it. The crowd would always be there upon his return—at least so he hoped. But he would have to take that risk, and brave the consequences.

Just then his stomach rumbled, and he knew it was time to venture forth into that great unknown. The longer he waited, the harder it would be. If he turned around now, he knew he would never try again, and then the crowd would swallow him in his hunger, and he would never know if he could have lived to tell the tale of his adventure beyond the crowd. He lifted his right foot and raised it upwards, moved it forwards, set it down, took another difficult step, and then another—and in so doing, took a giant leap off the edge of the world he had known for too long.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Excerpts from Gabriel's 4 books of adventure (click here for more info)

Following are a number of assorted excerpts from my four books, "Following My Thumb", "Kundalini and the Art of Being", "I Leapt Into the Night" and "Don't Push the Road":


"Rather than hide from that which we fear and pretend it’s not there, jump headlong into it. Get a feel for what exists out beyond the familiar paved roads, in that unsettling foreign land where the moose, grizzly and eagle roam free. There’s another very real and deeply meaningful world out beyond the realm of human perception, which we can glimpse and perhaps even get acquainted with, if we so desire. For the unknown is truly unknown only as long as we choose to ignore it. There’s really only one way to get to know anything—and that’s to experience it. Ultimately life is an adventure, whether we like it or not. Better for the soul to accept this, it seems, and then live accordingly." (Excerpt from "Following My Thumb", Chapter 9.)


"I lay there on my back wide-eyed for a good long while, nerves frayed from an overabundance of caffeine and another experience of strangeness, peering up at the clear night sky and the faintly twinkling stars, contemplating the odd behavior of humans, listening to the cars going around and around and around me." (Excerpt from "Following My Thumb", Chapter 7.)


"Somehow that loneliness was heightened more during the light of day, without the comforting blanket of myriad twinkling stars to ponder overhead. It was just my lone soul, the great expanse of wide-open starkness and a thin sliver of road leading me onwards. And, based on the previous day, a car roughly every half hour that brought only a glimmer of hope as it approached from across the expanse, for what seemed an eternity of longing before it finally flew by at a mile a minute, with nary a smile nor faintest teardrop of humanity to spare a bedraggled, sullen traveler; and I was thrown back into the despair of the lonely road." (Excerpt from "Don't Push the Road".)


"As my beer buzz thickened and reality began to seep slowly into my tired, travel-worn mind, I found myself in one of those peculiar states in which you start to feel more as if you’re looking out at a panoramic movie screen before you, rather than actually living the scene around you. The woman sitting before me was a vision of beauty, as if she’d just stepped out of a fantasy film in which she reigned over a kingdom of unicorns and fairies. She had long, wavy, sandy-blond hair, a soft, vibrant face with deep, thoughtful brown eyes and was wearing tight shorts over a faded red swimsuit that concealed firm and ample breasts. She was strong, independent and intelligent, yet totally feminine and infinitely alluring. She was pretty much everything I desired in my wildest of romantic juvenile dreams. I’m sure that she would have made an excellent queen of the fairies. I just wasn’t certain in that moment that I was prepared to be her knight in shining armor, should that be her expectation. Come to think of it, I wasn’t quite sure how I’d ended up sitting there with her at all." (Excerpt from "Following My Thumb", Chapter 5.)


"The air was cold and brisk on that starry night, and my breath spewed from my mouth like a dragon, a comforting reminder that I was still alive and breathing. The snow-covered trees and wide-open meadow were cast in that eerie black-and-white light, the awesome presence of the full moon hanging high overhead. I could see the warm lights of my father's humble cabin in the distance behind me on the edge of the meadow. The trees behind it loomed darkly, as if to pounce at any moment. The dull lantern on the front porch swung creakily in the slight chill wind. All I could see of it was the faint point of flickering light swinging back and forth, back and forth." (Excerpt from "I Leapt Into the Night".)


"In the fall of 1994, I was twenty-two and leading a relatively stable life in rainy western Oregon, when I rather impulsively quit my job, sold my old Datsun pickup, moved out of my house, and hit the road with just my backpack on my back, thumb leading the way. I had only a vague notion of where I was going and what I was getting myself into. I simply had an undeniable yearning for adventure and the unknown, which I chose to follow. I was the type who tended to act on these sorts of impulses. Little did I know the real adventure that I was embarking on this time." (Excerpt from the Introduction of "Kundalini and the Art of Being", published by Station Hill Press, 2008.)


"Over the next few days I happened to talk with a few other folks who had been involved with the community. I discovered that some of the leader’s many outrageous claims about himself and his cult were: that he considered his group to embody the highest spiritual truth on the planet (hey, that’s a new one); himself to be a reincarnation of the apostle Paul (perhaps so—but I’m not washing that one down with Kool-Aid); that he was the doorway to the fourth dimension (come on, everyone knows it was the Beatles); that the energy vortexes around Sedona were of his own making (how old was this guy—4.6 billion years?); and that crop circles were his own creations from past life-times (let me guess—and he also built the Sphinx single-handedly?). As my old college physics teacher would have put it, this guy had an ego roughly the size of the observable universe." (Excerpt from "Following My Thumb", Chapter 10.)


"I hiked on and on through the rain. I had no idea of the time of day, with the thick, gray clouds ever-present overhead. After several more hours, it seemed that it would soon be getting dark. I had no idea how much farther I had to go. I decided that I needed to find somewhere to set up my tent before nightfall rather than be caught hiking in the dark. I set my pack down on the gravel jeep-trail—streaked with
countless tiny streams, a rather uninviting environment for making camp—to take a look around. But I could find nowhere. The jeep trail was on a steep slope covered with trees, and the trail itself, though wide, was far too wet and rocky to lie down on all night. Besides, I didn’t know what condition my tent and sleeping bag would be in at this point. I had to keep going." (Excerpt from "Kundalini and the Art of Being", Chapter 17.)



Following is the Introduction and all of Chapter 1 from "Following My Thumb: A Decade of Unabashed Wanderlust"...

Introduction.

Why travel? Good question. Like most things in life it depends on what you want to get out of it. A two-week vacation of tranquil boredom on a tropical beach can be the perfect antidote to the hectic 9-5 work schedule and all the other pressures and stresses associated with modern-day life. I’ve enjoyed more than a few weeks of tropical bliss myself in the course of my travels, and hope to again in the future.

But as for myself, it’s not a vacation from 9-5 I’ve looked forward to but, because I think modernity is for the most part an unnatural and incongruous way of living to begin with, I’ve done my best to skip the daily grind entirely. My travels could certainly be described as bumbling at times, lacking a clear direction or purpose. The whole not-having-a-regular-job thing meant that I was generally traveling on the cheap, sometimes to the extreme. My travels in Europe when I was 18, and the corresponding creative lengths I went to in finding a place to sleep for the night, led to my mantra of “benches, beaches, barns and bridges” (all being suitable places to rest one’s head, in a pinch). It seemed that whatever fix I managed to get myself into due to a lack of cash on hand, there was always a way out of it—as long as I kept my options very wide open and expectations to a minimum.

But as hopefully the following 26 stories will illustrate, with a certain degree of flexibility, open-mindedness and flagrant disregard for following the societal rules (as well as a little luck thrown in to help compensate) one can travel on a budget without compromising the experience in the slightest. In fact, it’s more than likely to be a hell of a lot more interesting (or harrowing, as the case may be).

A vacation is one thing. An adventure is something else entirely. My quest has been one of seeking out experiences that were catalysts for expanding my mind, learning and evolving—situations that suddenly showed me the world and myself from a completely different perspective, or challenged me to reach for a new way of being. The most rewarding experiences were almost inevitably the ones that I didn’t plan, didn’t expect and sometimes couldn’t have even imagined. And underneath it all, from the joyous moments to the terrifying ones, has been a silent, steady lesson of trusting the universe to provide what I needed, one way or another.

This book chronicles my first decade of being an unrepentant travel addict, from 1990-2000. Part 1 tells the stories of my first introduction to hitchhiking as a young boy and my first trip abroad when I was eighteen, as well as my escapades rambling around Alaska as a college kid—including unknowingly following on the heels of Chris McCandless, subject of Into the Wild. I hitchhiked part of the same stretch of highway through Canada and Alaska just a few months after him, and spent that summer working in Denali National Park, just a short ways away from where he was living in an abandoned bus, before dying of starvation.

Part 2 takes things to another level after I drop out of college and commence six years of semi-homeless traveling around the United States on a spiritual quest; which resulted in everything from falling in love on the road to getting mixed up with a strange cult, to attending Rainbow Gatherings and sweat lodges and living in the Hawaiian rainforest for several months.

And in Part 3 I explore a whole new dimension of cultural immersion and reality-bending as I spend five months traveling throughout the vast sea of rich culture and humanity that is India. I attend a massive spiritual gathering on the Ganges River, visit the erotic temple ruins of Khajuraho, tangle with an assortment of crooked businessmen and end up hiding from tigers in the jungle while awaiting the much-hyped potential effects of Y2K.

Although the book isn’t all about hitchhiking by any means, the theme of “following my thumb” prevails throughout (not unlike following one’s heart or gut…except that the thumb has the practical element of being able to actually get you there, i.e. hitchhiking). Put another way, it’s the journey, not the destination. Life is indeed short, and I’ve just tried to make the most of it. But hey, I’ll let the stories tell themselves and stop wasting your time with a lengthy introduction. Enjoy, and happy trails.


PART 1. Young at Heart, Loose at Foot…

Chapter 1. Hitchhiking may be hazardous to your sanity
(May 1991)

…Standing on the side of the road outside of Valdez, Alaska, waiting for a ride. We could see our breath as we stood there in zipped jackets, our hands in our pockets. Although it was deep into spring it was a typical Alaskan spring—cold, overcast, damp. The birds were not yet chirping in ecstatic delight to welcome the new season. They must have been huddled in their nests, same as all the people.

We were about ten miles out of town and the silence was deafening. Pure wilderness rolled away from the road and for hundreds of miles east and west. Cars were scarce—we had seen less than a dozen in two hours. And they weren’t compassionate faces that stared out from behind the windshields. It seemed the people around here didn’t have much time or care for hitchhikers. Our plight wasn’t their concern. It was Alaska. If they knew you, or simply knew of you, I’m sure they’d go well out of their way to save your hide. But otherwise, you might as well be a moose.

Okay, so perhaps we weren’t yet in a plight. It was May, not the dead of winter. But it could become desperate soon enough, if we didn’t get a ride the heck out of there. We might die of boredom and impatience, or even worse: Delusional Hitchhiker’s Syndrome. It’s not pretty, believe me. Frustration and annoyance turn rapidly to delirium as warm cars continue to speed by, the occupants staring out at you as if you’re an escapee from the local psychiatric ward. After a while you start to play the part, acting in strange, impulsive, socially deviant ways—yelling and singing into the air, hopping around in circles to entertain yourself, telling dumb jokes aloud to the wind and any animals that might be listening. And of course, the more advanced the condition gets, the less chance you have of actually getting a ride.

But my friend Josh and I weren’t the transient outcasts we may have appeared, despite our forlorn predicament. We were just a couple of college kids out exploring the world, on a spontaneous hitchhiking road trip after finishing up the school year at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. The few paved highways of interior Alaska make a huge loop that covers about a quarter of the state. We wanted to explore as much paved ground as we could in the week we both had free.

So far we had been east from Fairbanks almost to the Canadian border, then south down to Valdez on Prince William Sound. Now we were headed back north and then west across the Chugach Range towards Anchorage, further north from there up to Denali National Park and then full circle back to Fairbanks, at the center of the state.
We’d spent the previous night at a campground on the outskirts of Valdez. That morning we got a short ride about ten miles out of town from a local going home—to smack in the middle of nowhere. We were both wishing we’d stayed near town and waited for a better ride, so we could get a hot cup of coffee about now and break up the monotony.

Finally, we saw another car in the distance coming towards us down the long, straight stretch of highway. We each pulled a hand from our pockets, thumbs extended, ready for action. As the vehicle approached we could see that it was a large Suburban wagon. Our expectations rose as it neared.

“Gabe, man, this is our ride—I can feel it,” Josh said to me.

We held our outstretched arms high. As the vehicle came closer, we could see that the two occupants were both young women—gloriously beautiful women too, or at least so our chilled brains imagined. They seemed to slow as they approached. We both had sudden visions of rescue, warmth and romance swirling in our heads.

It was perfect: They would pull over with radiant smiles on their lovely faces and offer us a ride in their roomy wagon. We’d stretch out in the back seat and have engaging conversation along the way, connecting with the two beauties like old friends, enjoying the pristine Alaskan scenery so much more now that we were moving down the road in comfort. We’d all go out for lunch at a pizza parlor in the next small town, and then continue down the road. That night, the four of us would decide to split a hotel room between us to economize. The next day we would all go backpacking together, and end up falling in love in the wilderness.

It was a classic hitchhiker’s dream. But it passed us by. They smiled slightly and waved half-heartedly as they flew past. They hadn’t slowed down a bit. It was the Hitchhiker’s Syndrome already beginning to set in, a mirage of our distorted imaginations. For a brief moment it had seemed so real, just a few feet away. But then it was all rushing away from us at a mile a minute.

I stood in the middle of the road after they’d passed, my arms raised in protest.
“How could you pass us by?” I yelled after them. “Do you have no respect for destiny?!?”

I lay down in the middle of the road on my back and started laughing uncontrollably. It was definitely setting in…


Here's the Table of Contents for "Following My Thumb" to give you a hint of what's in the rest of the book...


Introduction.

PART 1. Young at Heart and Loose at Foot…

Chapter 1. Hitchhiking may be hazardous to your sanity
Chapter 2. The beginnings of a hitchhiker
Chapter 3. When in doubt, act like you know what you’re doing
Chapter 4. Never turn down a free meal
Chapter 5. Those beautiful Swedish women
Chapter 6. Uniting body and mind
Chapter 7. Sleep under the bridge, not on it
Chapter 8. To travel is to be mystified
Chapter 9. The idiot’s guide to Denali

PART 2. Rambling Around the West…

Chapter 10. Always double-check the directions
Chapter 11. The continuing quest for a good night’s sleep
Chapter 12. Love between hitchhikers
Chapter 13. An adventure in peaceful protest
Chapter 14. Small world
Chapter 15. Sweating it out
Chapter 16. Adversity builds character—and hopefully wisdom
Chapter 17. Close call
Chapter 18. When dealing with the authorities, try to keep your clothes on

PART 3. Another World…

Chapter 19. A rupee is only worth a rupee
Chapter 20. Hold onto your chai
Chapter 21. Get good directions on the way to the rainbow
Chapter 22. A fahking adventure
Chapter 23. Always double-check the return policy
Chapter 24. Don’t fool around with the locals’ women
Chapter 25. Immersed in the crowd
Chapter 26. Watch and listen

Saturday, August 7, 2010

I Leapt Into the Night (click here for more info)

The title story from my book of creative fiction short stories, "I Leapt Into the Night, and Ten Other Stories"...



"I Leapt Into the Night"

The air was cold and brisk on that starry night, and my breath spewed from my mouth like a dragon, a comforting reminder that I was still alive and breathing. The snow-covered trees and wide-open meadow were cast in that eerie black-and-white light, the awesome presence of the full moon hanging high overhead. I could see the warm lights of my father's humble cabin in the distance behind me on the edge of the meadow. The trees behind it loomed darkly, as if to pounce at any moment. The dull lantern on the front porch swung creakily in the slight chill wind. All I could see of it was the faint point of flickering light swinging back and forth, back and forth.

I hadn't yet devised a practical way to carry my telescope, especially while tromping through the deep snow in my awkward furry winter boots, such as I was. Since the day it had been gifted to me in the sixth grade (I was now in ninth) I had tried, with moderate success, to make my passion as convenient as possible. Fortunately, my father was supportive of my unusual hobby—he trusted me alone out in the arctic cold, as I'd lived here in Alaska all of my young life. I couldn't even imagine living somewhere that the ground wasn't white for half the year, and the skies dark for much of that time.

My telescope wasn't one of these rinky-dink little things. It was a pretty big one, especially in comparison to little old me. I'd sewn straps around the legs of the tripod, so that I could swing it over my shoulder and across my back—like an archer’s quiver, sort of, but not quite as dexterous. And then I carried the lens case in my arms, just like when hauling firewood. Good thing that I had practice already, because you have to walk without seeing where the heck your next step will be—and besides, the arms get tired pretty quick sticking straight out like that.

At least I grew in the three years between sixth and ninth grade, which helped in some ways, though not in all. I must admit, budding breasts just get in the way for a young girl astronomer, at least in my case. Boys were starting to pester me for dates, but all I wanted to do was gaze up into the night sky, lost in my cosmic little world. Cheap, yes, but not much of a date. And besides, most boys just didn't understand the beauty of the night sky. It was too much trouble, too mysterious, and just plain weird for a girl.

Sometimes, I admit, I wished that I'd just taken up the harmonica or something for a hobby—I mean, you just slip it in your pocket and anytime, anywhere, you can pull it out and make your music, and you're happy. You don't have to worry about the clouds or waiting until dark, or it's too cold outside, or it's a pain in the butt to set everything up—or who knows if there's anything interesting up there tonight anyhow?

Despite all these random thoughts, I struggled on through the cold with my precious telescope that night, taking each step carefully, occasionally looking up at the deep, darkened sky that filled me with such warmth, even in the dead of winter. It was one of those nights when it was so clear, you could tell that the Man in the Moon was an adolescent, because he had the worst case of acne you'd ever seen. And yet he was still infinitely more handsome than most of the idiots at my school. I'd toss their silly cars, beer and sports out the window any day for that calm, cool, reflective persona of the Man in the Moon, and his infinite array of celestial relatives.

When I was young (well, younger) I wanted to be the first person to walk on the moon. When I found out it was too late, I decided that I would be the first person to walk on the sun. For some reason I thought that would be even more heroic. Never mind that the sun has no ground on which to walk—I'd just float there amongst the burning gasses, taking in its warming rays and looking back at the Earth with a certain pride and longing for whence I’d come. Oh, the innocence of youth! Fortunately, my dad had set me straight with some basic scientific principles—and soon enough provided me with a way to merge with the stars, and yet still stay connected to the ground.

If you happened to be looking down at my viewing spot from high above, you would see mountains all around—white-capped, snowy, beautiful awesome mountains, that make you want to leap right into them they're so shiny and wonderful in the moonlight. And within these mountains—in between them, that is—you would see a huge valley, probably five miles across, with lots of trees all over the place. In the middle of this forest was a clearing, and on one side would be our wonderful wooden cabin, that my mother and father built all by themselves (with a little help from me, of course, though I was only five at the time). Right in the middle of the meadow would be a small mound of a hill, only about ten feet across on top, which is where I always set up my telescope. And then waaaaay off in the distance, on the other side of the forest—with a skinny little dirt road running down through the valley—would be town, with its lights twinkling and smoke coming out of the smokestacks, and maybe a few dogs barking if you listened closely enough.

But anyhow, the important thing here is the little hill, because that was my mound of inspiration. You see, when I was really young, I used to go out there and lie on that hill and just watch the stars with my cat Vaughn (pronounced "Von"). This would be around late spring or early fall, when it wasn’t quite so crazy cold yet, but the nights were still plenty dark. Sometimes, if I heard there was going to be a meteor shower or a lunar eclipse, or maybe it was just an extra special night for some reason, I would bring my heavy-duty sleeping bag and a pillow and a thermos of hot chocolate. Then Vaughn and I would curl up nice and warm in my sleeping bag and just lay there watching the stars and the moon, until we got too cold to open our eyes anymore or even think. Eventually, we'd rush back inside and warm up by the wood stove.

So finally, like I said, in sixth grade my father decided that I needed a little better view of all that stuff up there, since I was spending my time out there watching it anyhow. He surprised me Christmas morning with the best present I ever got in my whole life. I was so ecstatic that I went out that very night and watched the sky do things that I hadn't even realized it was doing all along—though of course I'd imagined.

Since then I've seen the rings of Saturn; the moons of Jupiter; several comets that flew by, I forget their names; craters of the moon that would just blow your mind if you were me (which they did); the asteroid belt; double-star systems; quasars: a little meteor that exploded when it hit the atmosphere, which made me feel a little sad, in a happy sort of way; plus all sorts of other stuff that probably wouldn't sound very interesting or make much sense to a normal person.

On a night like tonight, however, I was hoping for something extra special, it being so exquisitely beautiful and cold and crystal clear and all.

When I got to the top of the plateau, I set down the lens veeeeery carefully. Then, I swung the tripod off my back with a great sigh of relief; the air blowing out of my mouth like a steam engine in the crisp cold.

I just stood there for a few minutes blowing into the air, taking in the night sky to see what it might have to offer this time. My arms hung stiffly from my sides from all the clothes I was wearing, including a scarf wrapped around my neck, that my mother had given me the Christmas before she'd died, when I was six. It had been much too big for me then. But the scarf had grown smaller as I got bigger (or something like that) so that it kept my neck nice and cozy now without choking me, even in forty below zero—which was about how cold it felt that night.

I was thinking that maybe it was a little too cold to stay out for long—which in my case could be for an hour or three. But it was just too perfect. There was electricity in the air, like a thunderstorm approaching on a clear day. The stars were so bright against the dark sky, the mountains gleaming white in the moonlight, that I couldn't waste this night inside doing homework or the dishes or anything. It was just right for becoming one with nature, as they say. This is what I most wanted, really—to feel no separation between the vastness of the cosmos and myself.

I was just finishing screwing the lens into place, when I heard my dad yell from the cabin,

"Aurora!"

That's my name, obviously.

"What, Dad?" I yelled back. Sound carried easily across the meadow in the cold night air.

"I'm letting Vaughn out—she's been meowing at me. Come back soon. The radio said it's minus thirty-three in town, so it must be almost forty-below out there tonight. I don't want you freezing to death. Would you like me to bring you some hot chocolate in a little while?"

"No, thanks!" I yelled back. "I'm okay. I won't be here for too long, I don't think, maybe just an hour or so. It's nice out here. It's pretty! You should see the mountains from here."

"No thanks, sweetie. I'm gonna stay inside where it's warm. It feels like an ice-rink out on the porch. I'm going back in. You be careful!"

"Okay, Dad!"

I could here Vaughn's faint meow, as she picked her way across the meadow through the snow.

"C'mon, Vaughn! Here, kitty! Come on!"

"Meow!"

She rubbed herself against my leg, as I finished adjusting the telescope. Then I put her in my lap, as I sat down on the chair that I always leave there. I covered her up with my jacket, since she was already beginning to shiver from the cold.

The sky was, of course, even more awesome seen through the God of Telescopic Insight. Everything was so clear, so real. It was as if a barrier that had always existed between myself and the sky was lifted, and I felt closer to the infinity of space than ever. The cold didn't seem to bother me at all. I just sat there, transfixed, my one open eye glued to the end of the telescope as I drifted off into the nether reaches of the universe. The glowing warmth of the moon and stars comforted me simply by their presence.

Soon, without realizing it, I guess, I lost all awareness of my surroundings. I even forgot about poor old Vaughn in my lap, who was probably asleep by then, but hopefully warm inside my jacket. I couldn't say. I had completely forgotten about the reality of the meadow and the trees, and the cabin nearby with my father resting quietly beside the fire. The stars were magnificent. They became everything to me in that moment. I could feel their brilliant light filtering down through the telescope, filling me with life.

The Man in the Moon seemed to be smiling at me. And once, he winked—a long, drawn out wink, that left me surprised, but delighted.

"Come on up," he seemed to be saying.

"But how can I?" I asked. "I don't know how."

"Just let yourself go," he said. "Let yourself go—give yourself to the sky, and it will happen."

I didn't know what he meant, at first. I thought, "'Give myself to the sky?' What's that supposed to mean?"

But as the warmth and comfort of the sky above filled me with assurance and strength, and helped to release me from the familiar physical world around me, I began to feel the truth of what he meant. The weight of my body slowly became less of a burden. I no longer knew or cared that I had arms or legs or breasts or a brain, or even an eye that perceived all of this through the telescope. I only cared for the beautiful sky above. As I came to realize this, I became more a part of the sky with every precious moment.

Soon I felt the tunnel walls of the telescope completely fall away. And I gave myself to the sky—just like he'd said—leaping straight into the night like a rocket leaving its launch, the force propelling me upwards, higher and higher. My spirit rose above everything, far above the meadows and the trees and the mountains and the town, and even sweet little Vaughn and my father's beautiful cabin.

Pretty soon I was looking down at the Earth like it was a speck of dust on the ground, far from my sight, but still at my feet. I could even see my body sitting there in the meadow, my eye still attached to the telescope. I admit that it made me a little sad—especially when I saw my father come rushing out of the cabin in panic and run to my lifeless body, screaming,

"Aurora! Aurora! What has happened to you?" (Though I could only imagine what he was saying.)

But I soon recovered from the sorrow of leaving behind the sweet Earth and my beloved friends and family, and became quite content hovering there above everything in the eternal night. For of course, it is always night in space, just as I had always wished. And if you look closely enough as you stroll along beneath the night sky, you may notice a little sparkle in the darkness of the night that wasn't there at one time. And if you smile, I'll smile back, I promise.