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Waiting for a Star

02/15/02 12:00AM By Willem Lange

I came home from work about five, dropping down the hill into Etna, Moose Mountain still glowing with sunlight. It was going to be a cold night.

The newspaper tube at the end of the driveway was up to its chin in a windrow of plowed snow, and a pretty long reach for my newspaper delivery guy. I'd have to shovel it out.

My long-handled shovel was stuck into a snowbank beside the door -- a hint from my wife about the front steps. I ignored it for the moment, and shuffled down the hill to the road.

Took about twenty minutes to cut the bank back to the paper tube. Then it was such a lovely evening, I decided to hang around down there for a while.

'Twas almost dark. The air was very still, the cold settling into the swamp. A blue jay screamed far off. Somewhere nearby a small woodpecker took a few last taps before dark. Looking for his silhouette, I found instead the sliver of the crescent new moon. When it fills, it'll be the Snow Moon.

It was getting colder by the minute. The fingers of the hand that slides up and down the cold shovel handle were numb. I swung my arm in a circle, driving blood to the end of it by centrifugal force. This was the kind of night that drives you inward.

"Well," I thought, "I'll give it a few more minutes. Hate to think the cold drove me back to the house. I'll wait for the first star."

I imagined what it might be like to spend the night in the woods with what I had on me. I doubted I'd be comfortable in chinos, boots, and a quilted shirt, with only a penknife, 35 cents, a bandanna, my wallet, and a ballpoint pen. I resolved to start carrying a book of matches, just in case. But in case of what? In case I got lost going down for the newspaper?

It was getting dark enough to see the planets; so I looked for a star. There it was -- Sirius, the blue-nosed dog. My son once told me, the year he was studying celestial navigation, that Sirius was his favorite star. I've never seen it since without thinking of him.

I lingered for a moment longer, listening to the throb of an engine somewhere, then started up the driveway toward the house.

Any little critters in the woods saw a man trudging up the hill in the gathering dark. But the man saw that blue-white star, moving through the bare trees, till it hung above the steep point of the house gable. He stopped and lowered his head till the star just touched the point, and blazed there like a fire on a mountaintop. He thought for a minute of his scattered children. Then he stomped inside, sat on the hall bench, and took off his frozen boots.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

--Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire.



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