||little beacons -- their way of signaling location and desire.|
My friend and I had gone on a nocturnal hike in a nature preserve that surrounds a shallow inlet on the city’s eastern shore, where a tower has been erected for bird watchers, since bird migration routes cross the reedy inlet and thousands of wings descend on the shore meadows and reedy shallows for a rest. You can see cranes and pipits, tufted ducks, goldeneyes and teal and lapwings. As a child, I used to pick wood anemones on those meadows for Mother’s Day.
We were walking single file on a narrow trail across the dark meadow, heading toward the calm and shimmering inlet. Beside the trail stood a tall, dense tussock of marsh grass in full bloom.
“Look,” I said to my friend and reached out to stroke the soft tufts of grass.
At that moment, the tussock was struck by a powerful, dazzling light beam, as blinding as if someone behind us had switched on a spotlight to show everyone what I was seeing and pointing at. But no: the light did not focus only on that tussock -- everything around us, the meadow, the sky, the entire landscape was lit up in a flash, as bright as high noon.
I turned and looked back. Between the meadow and the road, on a tall embankment, ran an old disused branch line. The embankment completely obscured our view of the road and the buildings along the road. But right above it I saw a bright halo, a semicircle that shrank as I watched, the way the light beam of a flashlight can be made to shrink by turning the lens. After the disappearance of that halo, the summer night’s dusk returned in all its evenness.
I was frightened.
The flash had been completely silent, and it put an end to our nocturnal excursion. We trudged back on the trail, hoping for an explanation of the event on the other side of railway embankment. But when we got there all we saw was