I have picked up the habit of taking long walks. It’s one of the few times throughout the day that I can appreciate the enormity of the sky, or, put another way, place myself inside of it. If I’m not paying attention, the sky takes on the quality of a dome, like a big lid with colors and lights in constant motion facing down on the earth, which is a frequently addressed problem in my thoughtlife. I want to get a really good look at it, you know, and remove the lid if I can. Walks provide space for that. When walking there is no window frame or ceiling to obstruct one’s view—just the eye’s surface and a great, infinite span. There are still rooftops, trees, street lights, wire pathways for electric buses, telephone wires, and other things you might see on a walk, but generally speaking, when you look straight up, you are looking at lowercase “s” space. Vast amounts of space and distance.
From the Betty Bowen Viewpoint on top of the Queen Anne neighborhood in Seattle, at night time, the far reaching waters of the Puget Sound are bordered by black lumps of land pinpicked with innumerable lights that, seen from this vantage, seem to exist separately from their original source, the same way stars don’t look like stars—gigantic, burning globes churning with nuclear energy—but small lights escaping through the cracks of a black dome. Standing there, I have a similar sensation to the one on the Peter Pan ride at Disney World when your pirate ship escapes through the window of the children’s bedroom to reveal a sleepy London beneath you. The ship floats around ten or twenty feet over the landscape, which is miniaturized with exaggerated angles to mimic a feeling of being far above everything. The dome above, the ground below, small lights layered and stacked along hillsides and waterfronts.
If stars looked like stars, I might more easily look up and see a cosmos with material suspended inside. A few weeks ago I was paddling a kayak around a lake in Michigan and noticed motes of pollen and other particles spread throughout the water. They were infinitesimally small, but I could see where each was floating in relation to another, so that peering through the water’s surface took on a supernatural quality of standing at the universe’s edge and seeing inside. Each stroke of the paddle sent galaxies swirling.
Sometimes when I walk I am inside the universe. The dome lifts, and the air I breathe becomes drenched with alien, unearthly qualities. What am I breathing? What am I smelling? What strange things from the universe touched this oxygen, latched to it, flowed through my nostrils, and are now inside my lungs? I smell pine needles, decaying leaves, engine oil, wet pavement, and cold air, if that could be said to be a scent unto itself. Remove those, and what millions of other things that have slipped through our atmosphere might be left? Something in the questions makes the air crisper, the sub-zero mass of space and distance stretching down from unknown places just to cool my skin.
Will Montei is currently in pursuit of a Masters in Teaching at Seattle Pacific University. He has been writing for the post calvin since it began in 2013.