My oldest son, Robert, is an adult, but he has always been my challenging child. His youth brought parent teacher conferences because he could not sit still in class. In his teenage years he dressed in black and listened to music that screamed pain in lyrics only the young could tolerate. Not loved any less, or more, than his calm, quiet brother, but the child, and now the adult, always at the front of my worries. When my fiancé, Andrew, and I started dating, he understood that to love me was to also love my sons.
When Robert called me up and asked “Could we go look at the stars in Albany?” I asked Andrew if he would bring his telescope. We drove three hours to Fort Griffin State Historic Site, the closest dark sky location, far from the pollution of neon signs and city streetlights. We arrived just as the visitor center was closing, and picked up the keys to the small metal shed where we would all sleep, huddled under blankets on cots, and lulled to slumber by the rattle of the window unit heater.
That night the sky was a jewelers’ black velvet coverlet, tossed with millions of diamond stars. We set up the telescope and peered at the moon, a half full round of blue white cheese. Celestial Venus, the bright goddess, graced us with her image. We hoped for shooting stars to tag with our wishes, but the stars refused to drop.
The next day we hiked across the dry brown prairie through the ruins of the fort. We imagined lonely soldiers stationed there, rising and retiring to the bugle call of reveille and taps, waiting out their service on the West Texas plains. We thought of them fishing on the banks of the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, while longhorn cattle grazed nearby among the tumbleweeds. The soldiers are long gone, but the official State of Texas longhorn herd remains, patient guardians of their outpost.
We took pictures. While I stood at a distance and admired the cattle and their horns, Andrew weaved through the cactus and risked impalement to get a better shot. Robert pulled a black knit beanie onto his head to counter the cold wind, and leaned against the ruins of a stone shelter, alone in shadow under a cloudless sky. Andrew caught this unlikely portrait of Robert standing still, waiting for us to come back around and collect him.
We left without a shooting star. Filled with the moon, soothed by the prairie, and cheered by the stars, we headed home content, as though nature herself had granted all our wishes.
I recently wrote a Shadorma poem as part of a writing challenge from The Creative Cafe. The poem was inspired by the photo I describe in this piece, and this story is the story behind the photograph behind the poem. You can read the poem, “Alone Not Adrift” here: