The Sky is Blue, and Bright, and Filled with Stars
by Edward Ashton
Dot reaches the summit of Mary’s Rock just after six, maybe an hour before sunset. It’s a clear, cool September day, with a scattering of tiny white clouds in a royal blue sky, and a soft, steady breeze from the west that brings the faint smell of burning things up from the ruins of Luray. She drops her pack at the top of the trail, pulls out a water bottle, and scrambles up the last thirty meters of broken granite to the high point. The trees on the north side of Thornton Gap a half-kilometer below are just showing the first hints of color, tiny flecks of red and gold mixed into a sea of dark green. Off to the west she can see the smoke now, rising from what looks like a brush fire far down the valley. She sits down, leans back against a waist-high block of stone, and drains half of her water in one long, lukewarm pull.
She’s been here once before, when she was years younger and there were still a few people raising goats and vegetables down in the valley. It was winter then, and she spent a crystal-clear, bitterly cold night out on the overlook, bundled into her mummy bag, sleeping in hour-long snatches, waking each time to a different dazzling pattern of stars and station-lights. The beauty was almost overwhelming, and she vowed then to come back some day, to see what it was like to spend a night on the summit when she didn’t have to worry about hypothermia.
As the sun begins to redden and dip toward the horizon, Dot climbs to her feet and makes her way back down to the overlook, a flat half-circle of stone maybe forty meters across, hanging out over four hundred meters of empty space. A hawk rides the breeze, floating almost stationary out over the drop. It looks at her, dips one wing, and falls like a stone, chasing something down below. Dot retrieves her pack, pulls out her food sack and her alcohol stove. She’s low on fuel. Four more days, maybe five, and she’ll be cooking over an open fire until she can find some more. As she measures out her supper, she realizes that she only has a few days worth of beans and noodles left. No point in cooking when you’ve got nothing to cook, and she’s at least a week’s walk from the nearest resupply. She sighs, and pours a third of what she’d taken back into the sack. (Continue Reading…)