Camping under the stars never disappoints. It is one of my favourite things in life; to lay with friends under the night sky, without a word needing to describe the awe-inspiring sights above.
Even the concept of space is unfathomable. A seemingly (and possibly) infinite void home to so many worlds like our own, so many suns providing their own light and life to distant planets we cannot imagine. It was after a long day in Arizona that I was laying back on a bench under precisely that scene. It was cooling off from the day, and the crisp night air clarified the twinkling lights into one of the clearest skies I had ever witnessed. I was at the Grand Canyon, deep in the desert and as it was off-season, the campground was all but empty, with only a couple of over-indulgent RVs on the other side of the park. My modest tent did not even dent the pitch where it was set-up, clearly designed for something much larger. It was quiet though, and dark, and that was all that was required.
Earlier that day the sunset had been remarkable. Deep reds and oranges reflected and imprinted their colouration on the layers upon layers of sedimentary rocks worn away over thousands of years to form one the most incomprehensible natural sites on our planet. Giving way to violets and indigoes that provided insight into the night ahead, the light began to fade over the void in which the Colorado River flows, the first stars beginning to make themselves known.
I had received a tip of that a satellite would be passing over that night. Nothing unusual there. If you gaze up at the sky on any modestly clear night, fast-moving lights will occasionally pass above. Often mistaken for planes, the lights do not flash and often ebb and flow into and out of visibility. These are one of the countless satellites tirelessly orbiting our planet without sleep, communicating far above to satisfy our desire for everything the 21st century has to offer.
The difference about that night is that the mirrors on that particular satellite were to align so perfectly that as it passed over, the suns light would reflect precisely down to our point. The result, I was promised, would be an impressive and repeated flash that would have the same luminosity as that of the brightest of moons. As a lay back and took in the scene, a distance vocal of coyotes raised the hairs on the back of my neck. Or may it was just the fluttering breeze rusting the tips of the trees above. In a mesmerising song of calming howls, the noises faded until it was just I and the trees again. As one of the branches shifted in the wind, a satellite began to make its way across my narrow window of sky.
Was this the one?
Several false hopes from previous satellites had come and gone, and this one looked no brighter than usual. Moving slowly into view from the southwest, as it was about one third of the way across its traverse of the sky, a slight flicker drew my attention closer. All of a sudden it happened. In a burst of pure white light reminiscent of a camera flash, the mirrors must have aligned resulting in everything around lighting up in an eery white glow you sometimes get from the moonlight on a winters eve. Two more flashes proceeded to disorientate my vision before the satellite ebbed out of view on the horizon. In response, the coyotes had begun their song once again, perhaps comforting one another in what must be a completely incomprehensible event for them. Drifting in and out of audibility, I too began to slip out of consciousness in the calming and hypnotic scene, a melody of wildlife and earth combining.
Awoken by a crisp breeze completely disorientated and lying half off the bench, a tickle of an ant wound its way up my foot. Shaking it off, and a slight shiver developing, I retired to my tent for comfort and warmth escaping the increasingly disconcerting vibrations of the tall spruce in the wind.