It's so refreshing to read in depth and informative articles like this one. I absolutely love the opening:
My favorite evening activity was to sit on the deserted sand alone. I watched waves linger at the soundless horizon before breaking rhythmically onto the shore. As night fell, I waited until the line dividing sky and sea blurred away and all boundaries vanished. Of course everybody knew that the world beyond the horizon was strictly forbidden to those of us behind the Iron Curtain. But, sitting in the dark, I was free to imagine.
There is something about being alone and outdoors at night that makes you feel incredibly small and realize how expansive the universe is.
I essentially grew up on a boat as a child. We spent endless summers in Catalina - exploring, roasting marshmallows on the campfire, playing card games and doing worksheets and drawing imaginary monsters and machinery. There was no TV allowed, no gameboys. Just my brother and I and our imagination. After the sun went down, my mom, who I now realize used every opportunity to teach us something new, would take us up on the top deck of the boat. We would huddle on the damp, slick deck, wrapped in a huge poofy sleeping bag, and she would start to point out the constellations to us.
"There's Cassiopeia...she was a queen who had a big head. She thought we was so beautiful..."
"There's Ursa Minor...the little dipper...you have to follow it's handle all the way up and then you get to the North Star."
My favorite was always Orion. Some night we could only see his belt and others he would be out. He was elusive and hard to find and I loved that.
There were always lulls in the conversations and lessons and we would listen to the sounds of the water lapping against the hull of the boat. And always, there was a clanking of a flashlight rolling in a drawer and the ping of the cables as they rocked against one another. It would those moments where I would just look and look and look forever. There was no end or beginning. We were a tiny little boat on the massive ocean on a massive planet being completely and utterly surrounded by nothing but darkness and glimmering stars.
The nights where we would travel would even more interesting. When you're in port you have land. Even if it's an open bay of an island, it's sheltering you. It's stable and familiar and it keeps you wrapped up and protected. You leave the cabin and the lights and lay upstairs for a couple hours.
When you are motoring in the dead of the night in the middle of the sea there is nothing. You can't turn on lights because your eyes have adjusted. You know that if you turn on a light your eyes are ruined for an hour or so - you will open and shut your eyes and there is no change. As the night wears on, more and more stars slowly appear. The moonlight seems to be brighter than the sun. You can see the reflections of the ripples and whitecaps and occasionally a drifting bed of kelp.
Sometimes, if we were lucky, there would be bioluminescence. Then my brother and I would get on our knees and lean between the two railings. Our lifejackets would barely fit and so we would be stuck between the two layers of railings. And we would relax, hands dangling awkwardly, and watch the boat's hull cut through a sea of little lighted living buggers. When the wet air would bite at our eyes and noses, we would run inside and down the stairs and pump the head. The toilet would pull water in from the ocean and it would scream out from the hidden holes and race down into the dark pit at the bottom. I always imagined they were little tiny elfs or children that were playing and racing and the toilet bowl was their roller coaster.
We would look down and find these mystical invisible creatures lighting up our ocean and look up and see these mystical stars and constellations. In comparison to the bioluminescent creatures, we were massive. In comparison to the stars we were but a speck. There is no way to fully explain the vastness and immensity of those things. There is no way to answer the emotions and memories of the vast and elusive nights. There is nothing - not religion nor science - that will ever be able to shed light on everything. Sometimes we are nothing and sometimes we are everything.