(This column is the second installment in a 2-part series. Read part one here.)
As we made our escape south to Wakkanai, the ferocity of the storm perceptibly lessened. Now you could actually see that the road was a gleaming sheet of ice, with drifts of snow piled here and there along the shoulder, like clumps of powder spilled on a mirror. When we finally made it into the city, the streets had become labyrinths, guided by traffic signals that were plastered white. There were more cars however, and together we made a serpentine course down the boulevard, until at last we arrived at our guests’ hotel.
There was no risk of death anymore as we all got out to say our goodbyes. The giant windows of the hotel lobby blanketed us with warm, friendly light, and we forgot about the lingering blanket of darkness spread upon the sky above. Indeed, as we made our way back out of the city, aside from the roads, things seemed to go along quite as one would have expected. Inside the restaurants people were eating, inside the convenience stores people stood reading magazines, and in a dark back street, as a bus pulled away from its stop, a camera flashed upon the faces of two lovers kissing.
Instead of heading back into the storm on the coast, we decided to go home through the mountains of central Soya. The route took us passed a wide swath of strip malls on the outskirts of town, where we continued to encounter oncoming traffic, even after we turned onto the expressway. Home for us, however, was not the sort of place that has an expressway running through it. So, we exited after about 20 minutes of high speed travel, stopped at a busy little Seicomart in a village on the edge of civilization, and then turned down a narrow highway that threads its way through the mountains 120 kilometers back to our house.
After driving a few minutes down this road, I began to feel strange. The letdown of stress from the end of our friends’ visit had imparted me with an exhaustion that was deepening along with the night. Yet, I wasn’t sleepy. Perhaps I had drank too much coffee.
I stared down the road. A fresh coating of powder snow had made the entire surface seamless. It looked so soft. And it made no sound. Regular plowing over the course of the winter had now resulted in the sides of it rising a good two meters in height. And completely enveloped in white, it was as if it had not been paved onto the surface of the ground, but carved like a river through the heavens. It was then that I looked up and made a profound discovery. The sky was full of light.
When it happened, I can’t be sure. What was certain however was that the black cloud was gone. Above us, the sky was white with stars. They shined with a brilliance that I can recall experiencing few times in my life, and this in spite of my headlights on high. The night air had such clarity, in fact, that I could see for kilometers down our road, well enough to realize that not only was no one coming, no one had gone either, no one that is except a fox.
His tracks gently meandered along the median. And, with Mozart’s 25th blasting triumphantly over the stereo, I followed them endlessly in a state of sublime hypnosis. We had, it seemed, departed from the world as we knew it, and were now floating through a sanctuary in heaven, following the footsteps of God.
With about 25 kilometers left to go, we reached the summit of a large mountain and the blinding stars just became too much. We stopped the car, right in the middle of the road, turned off the lights, and got out. Instantly the sky grew ten times brighter. Straight above us beamed Orion, and Taurus, and the Greater Dog. But they were like nothing I’d ever seen before.
Growing up I had often wondered why constellations had been given the names they had, concluding that ancient people had quite the imaginations to extrapolate the complex images shown in my textbook from just a few stars. Tonight, however, I realized that it was not extravagance of imagination that led them to conclude as they did, but extravagance of stars. For truly, when I looked up at the sky at that moment, I saw a man, and a bull, and a dog, and so much more.
I stood there staring at the whiteness of the sky as I had done hours before at the blackness of the sea. The condensation from my breath was already forming icicles throughout my beard. Yet I didn’t feel cold. There was no wind. There was no sound. I felt so detached from the world, and simultaneously, so completely alive. But down in the valley below our bed awaited. My wife gently called me in. It was, at last, time to go home to sleep. And that was alright with me.