It was too dark to see faces.
In the day, the viewing area looks like this. But a year ago, I stood near the open window on a pitch black night, surrounded by murmuring voices. The deck was swarming with curious visitors, all straining their eyes out towards the horizon, hoping to catch a glimpse of the famous "Marfa Lights".
What are the Marfa Lights? A sign explains, if you are there in the day.
We hoped to see something like this.
Late on a Saturday night in April, my husband and I decided to head from our hotel in Marfa, TX to Mitchel Flat, 9 miles away. People have gathered in this open field for years in hopes of spotting the mysterious phenomena called The Marfa Lights.
It's hard to know how many people stood out on that dark deck. My eyes never really adjusted to see more than dark shapes, milling about...and a glow now and then of cell phones. My ears worked much better...hearing the constant flow of cars and motorcycles entering and leaving the parking lot...and the voices. I kept my eyes glued to the horizon and listened. A giddy group who had probably had a few beers...some parents explaining to children where to look...a few hopeful gasps and some disappointed responses. And so many questions swirling in the night air. "What's that lumpy thing?" "Are those the lights, or just a car?" "Can we go now?" "Where are you?" The sky wasn't producing any excitement, but the dialogue was entertaining.
I could never see him this clearly.
But I heard his serious voice answering a few questions. I could see the shape of a man seated in a folding chair. There seemed to be a tripod beside him, which was quietly clicking at regular intervals. I strained to hear over the now annoying chatter, because I could tell this man knew something about these Marfa Lights.
As it turns out, the figure seated nearby was James Burnell, a scientist and author of a number of books about the lights. He sat quietly in his chair, while the crowd of impatient spectators thinned. And before long he was the only one left on the deck besides my husband and myself.
It was an odd thing to converse without seeing a face. It's amazing how you listen to the clues of a voice. His voice was calm and steady. He seemed neither annoyed by our questions or enthused. Then, he answered our most important question. "So, have you seen any tonight?" "Not tonight." He answered, while his camera clicked away...just in case. He spoke like a scientist, explaining how these mysterious orbs of light were first witnessed by the Native Americans, believing they were fallen stars. He told us a bit about the studies he had done using automated monitoring stations...and yet there really is no explanation for some of the sightings.
Then Mr. Bunnell stopped sounding like a scientist and he talked about growing up in Marfa and how his grandfather would take him out to this spot (which was only a field) in hopes of spotting the lights. He mentioned that he now lives in Dallas, but occasionally makes the 9 hour drive to spend a weekend studying the sky. "This doesn't seem to be one of the lucky nights." He said without disappointment.
Thanks to the Expert on Marfa Lights!
I won't remember your face, but I'll always remember your patience and passion. It's hard to be patient about something you're passionate about. You show that it's possible.
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers