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Wheatstalk of Infinite Light

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Winona was seven years old the first time she saw a lighted sky. Even at her grandparents old farm, the first traces of night before she was shuffled off to bed were always colored with brilliant golden slashes in the distance. Everywhere in eye-shot a city, the horizon farther off by dark than by day. They had heavy curtains in all of the windows to keep the shine of electricity. Whenever her parents would pick her up after a visit, she had trouble sleeping in her own bed, the room faintly blue with muted colors instead of the the soot-darkness of her room in the country. Not even her own light-blocking pull-shade could completely tamp out the glow inside a city.

They used to measure visual acuity in terms of how far away a person could see a single candle's flame on a clear night, when that answer was closer to ten miles than ten feet. Not that long ago there used to be enough stars to navigate by, the edge of their galaxy a lengthy cluster of white from one domed edge of the sky to the other -- not so, anymore. "Used to be," her grandmother told her the first night she got to stay up until ten.

When her first grade class took its first off-planet field trip of the year, Winona went with her parents' admonition to stay with her group, a juice box and a cheese sandwich but no real comprehension of how big the world outside the world would be.

The rest of the class paid attention to the film about the first lunar landing; she fidgeted in her seat. Her classmates talked and giggled among themselves and gawked at Neil Armstrong's footprints; she squinted at the other stars, disappointed when sunlight and Earthshine made them dull.

After a while the teacher and the guide and the chaperones herded them all into the lunar transport vehicle to drive to the dark side of the moon. The other children thought it was boring and were suddenly as agitated as she had been inside during the movie. When they arrived, while the others jostled and hopped around in the designated play area, Winona slinked away to the far edge of the group and looked up. And up, and out, and up.

Winona was seven years old the first time she fell in love, her galaxy like a stalk of swaying wheat before her. This has to be everything, she thought, letting her mouth fall open a little inside her pressure suit. She couldn't even hear herself breathing; it seemed like every part of her brain was intent on the worlds upon worlds overhead, like there was no sense but sight and even that too small and singular for real understanding.

She reached out one hand, as if to touch the sky.

View of the Milky Way from the moon.