I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars. Og Mandino
Ever since our pup Buster burst a disk in his back, I have had to take him outside to go to the bathroom. Once we get to the front lawn, I remove his harness, and he runs off, wobbling and weaving as he travels from edge to edge, patrolling his turf. In the early months after his injury, during the summer solstice of 2021, I took him out at night alone until we had two close encounters with the skunk who lives in our yard. After that, I made Dan come with me. I watch the dog to be sure he doesn’t scoot through an opening in the rosemary bushes and tumble down the hill in search of his white-striped friend; Dan uses a high-powered flashlight to search for wildlife in the yard.
That first winter, I complained about the lack of light, the cold, the relentless chore of taking Buster outside night after night regardless of weather conditions. Unless it’s pouring rain, the dog likes to take his time inspecting the perimeter of the grass, determining what critters have been there since he was last out, listening for the other dogs in the neighborhood, choosing the perfect spots to do his business. Only in a torrential downpour will he take care of his needs quickly and run back to where I stand, eager to return to the warm, dry house.
This season is different. Just as my grief ebbs and evolves, so, too, has my relationship with darkness. I took note of the days growing shorter, but it didn’t bother me the way it has in the past. I welcomed the brisk chill of winter and all the rain we’ve had, happy to mark the end of fire season in California, willing to wait for the light to return.
We live in the heart of the country without streetlights to whitewash the blue-black sky. The stars are even brighter during winter, and out here, they pulse with shimmering white light. They are impossible to ignore. I find myself looking up involuntarily the moment the harness is off. When Dan asks me a question, I can see my words written overhead in the frosty air as I answer. Even the white frosting covering the grass sparkles like broken glass in the moonlight.
The air pulses with life late at night. Some animals make themselves known, indifferent to our presence. The barn owl hooting in the oak tree, the foxes shrieking behind the granite outcropping, the coyotes howling in the distance, the bullfrogs chorusing in the creek.
Months of practice have taught me to sense what I cannot see. My ears are up, just like Buster’s. I can now discern the difference between the staggering drunk walk of the skunk and the delicate footfall of the deer walking through the brown fallen leaves.
I am learning to love these dark winter nights and starry skies. To pause under them, trusting they are vast enough to hold my pain. For so long, I wanted light to illuminate what was around every corner. To see who and what was coming my way. I have become more comfortable not knowing what’s out there, more willing to trust that whatever it is, it’s not looking for me.
How fragile these precious days are. The way we walk on the razor’s edge, so often unaware of how close we are to slipping through what’s holding us and falling or losing it all. Like Buster, I live at the edges now, pushed up against the borders of living and dead, light and dark, grief and joy.
I will miss these star-strewn nights. The way my jaw relaxes and my brow unfurrows as I gaze at the night sky. The way Buster, Dan and I are cocooned in the dark and outlined by moonlight. Looking up, I am reminded of just how small I am and how many of us there are out there, broken and grieving, looking for the ones we’ve lost in the stars. I breathe in as I absorb the fulgent light and search for my boy in the solstice sky.