On the first days of 2017 I was alone in a cabin in upstate New York trying my hardest to write. I had not yet disabused myself of the Walden fantasy, and I wanted a quiet place where I could see stars. The sun rose at seven and set at five: I took short excursions in the morning, and in the afternoon I would lie on my back, peering out the window at an odd angle, and read. My retreat was meant to last five days. I made generous estimates for food and drink, and most of the time I wanted for nothing. Much to my disappointment the neighbourhood was not deserted; many had put up “no trespassing” signs, and although I didn’t see anybody I felt cheated of my solitude. It occurred to me that I had perhaps not paid enough. What I wanted in truth was some sort of secluded mountain temple, and to be fair, if I owned one I wouldn’t put it up for rent.
On the last night, I ventured from my cabin at ten o’clock to catch a glimpse of treasure. The rain had died down, and though there was a huge puddle outside the surface had partly frozen over. Unlike on the first night, when the silence was convincing and total, I could hear wind running through the trees. There were beings more accomplished than I moving under cover of darkness. Undeterred, I made my way out, illuminating the path with the glow of my phone’s screen. (Whenever I needed more I’d turn on the flashlight, but would cover it with my gloved hand so that the light only shone forth in a narrow band.) My boots made crunching noises, egregiously loud. From my cabin to the main road it was all gravel and ice, and I slowed to a crawl, fearing the ground would give way.
The site I scouted out earlier was on an adjacent farm. Nothing was known about it except that occasional trucks would come and go. There was a clearing with its gates swung wide open, not at the main entryway but further down the road; I had visited it during daylight and it appeared unused, at least during winter when there was snow on the ground. At the far end it was capped by dense trees and a steep ascent towards Hunter Mountain. Of course, to enter the property unbidden would be trespass. I assumed there was a camera but nobody watching the feed. As usual, when engaged in activities of dubious legality, I recited my speech in the event I was caught: “I’m just taking a night-time stroll.” But why? “Well I’m not sure I’m legally obliged to explain myself.” That seems suspicious. “It’s a free country.”
Soon I came upon the lip of the clearing, my boots all but announcing my intrusion. In the dim light I could see a parked vehicle, merely paces away from the gate, that certainly had not been there before. It had no running lights and looked empty. The gate was open. Just as I was about to set foot on the land, I heard something in the cluster of trees shaking, coming alive. I couldn’t tell how far away it was. Fifty metres at most. Too close. And immediately it was no mystery: horses, ones which I had previously spotted grazing out in the cold. Why they were not in some warmer shelter I did not know. There was some stamping, then wheezing. I strained my eyesight but could not make out their shapes; like a dragon in a cave, heard but not seen. I had with me a small pocketknife, for emergencies, but clearly it was worthless. If the phrase “hung like a horse” was any indication my blade probably wasn’t enough to even fight their dicks. I reasoned: these horses were domesticated, docile. But then again, any animal is violent when aggravated. Being known as an aggravating individual of sorts, and not overly keen on the prospect of facing down stampeding stallions while effectively blind, I took my leave, wincing every time my footsteps echoed in the night.
There was another clearing about half an hour away, near a large tree at an intersection. On the way, there were private homes whose light leaked from the gaps of curtains (I reassured myself that, by virtue of the laws of physics, their inhabitants could not really see outside). I kept on the main road, thinking the word “unimpeachable”, though all this time aware that it would do me no good. I was half expecting the gruff cry: “Who goes there?” To which I would respond: “A friend!” Just like in the movies. I snuck past two well-lit properties and a brook before thinking, enough. I had underestimated the elusiveness of my object. Celestial bodies are not summoned; in the middle of the road, flanked by thick foliage, I looked up at the polluted sliver of sky and despaired. I thought in a distant land I could better see distant things, but above me it was mud.
Suddenly, as if by grace, I saw the belt of Orion laid out before me—three stars in a row, with three above and two below. Unmistakable, even to a child. Just as quickly as it appeared it became obscured. I tried to take a photo but all I got was black, which I found satisfying; some things ought to defy mechanical capture. I turned back to go home, hopefully undetected, hopefully alive, and when I entered the warmth of my own cabin it felt like I had been away for an age. Outside my window the skies turned without cease: at times, between sleep and wakefulness, tangled in the sheets, I felt I was on a hurtling spaceship bound for some unknown.