By Shae Davidson
I was thinking the day most splendid till I saw what the not-day exhibited. . . .
A field of light emerges just south of Bridgeport as you travel along I-79 at night.
Anmoore sits nestled in a valley well below the level of the highway. By day, the town sinks into the background of hills and small communities in northern West Virginia, but at night the twinkling lights of homes and businesses appear wondrous, dazzling travelers as they cruise through the darkness above the town. My partner calls them “ground stars.” They appear as you’re driving along a dark stretch of highway or standing on a lonely hilltop, constellations that unfold below the level of the horizon.
The ways in which I saw–and imagined–ground stars changed over the course of time, evolving along with my relationship to place and the road itself. They wove themselves into daydreams when I was a kid. Riding in the backseat as we drove home from the mall, I imagined that they were stars flowing past as I piloted a spaceship. When I became obsessed with Blake’s 7 later in childhood, they became the lights of ominous Federation installations, places to avoid as my mind wandered from adventure to adventure.
One lonely ground star became part of local teen folklore.
The highway runs even with the dormered attic of an old house. For years passersby could glimpse a single bare bulb hanging in the attic. Everyone called it “the ghost light,” and seeing it became a sign of good luck for teens. When I was in grad school I passed the house driving to visit my parents, and the lonely light became an oddly comforting sign that I was getting closer to home.
As I learned to drive, though, the meaning of the lights changed. Driving demanded more immediate attention, more awareness of my surroundings. As I moved along the highway during the day, the houses and buildings now emerged from the rows of hills with their infinite shades of green. The car cruised above yards filled with plastic pools and toddlers’ toys, houses where wheelchair ramps were being added to porches, or a car disappeared from a driveway as a kid left home. At night the glistening gems of light made the world seem more poignant, more fragile, and raised questions about the people I passed by.
Who lived there? Do they hear our car cruising above them on the highway? What are their lives like? What kinds of changes were they going through, and how did they feel about the future?
As houses flashed by, this curiosity led to a sort of tenderheartedness.
I didn’t know who lived in the houses or worked in the convenience stores that flashed by, but I hoped they were happy, that their houses were safe and snug and that they were enjoying their lives. Metta practitioners work to develop a feeling of loving kindness for “neutral” people: a clerk you see once a week at the grocery store, or the kid you see waiting for the bus as you drive to work. The stars that flitted by evoked a different approach to metta, one that highlighted the way categories can blend into one another.
The people in the towns and isolated houses were both neutral and unknown, crossing the line that separated the glimpses I knew about families from the universal focus of the last stage of the cultivation of metta. The way the families living near the road moved from one stage to another opened the possibility that the other aspects of the metta bhavana were fluid: I could be the “difficult person,” a close friend from childhood could now be a neutral person.
Just like real stars, ground stars change and die.
Schedules change as kids leave home and parents age. Porch lights are left on less often; a retiree goes to bed earlier rather than staying up to read or watch TV. Houses are torn down or remodeled as families move in and out. Houses disappear from view as the skinny trees along the highway mature. New constellations appear, glowing from the hills as I left home to go to undergrad and marking the route to first jobs and first apartments.
The ghost light was still shining the last time I passed the fabled attic at night, but other houses had sprung up nearby, catching the attention of passersby and inspiring new thoughts and new questions as they travel on and the ground stars fade into the night.
Historian Shae Davidson has worked in industrial and social history museums throughout Appalachia and has taught in West Virginia, Ohio, and Illinois. Shae’s past publications have included articles in Turning Wheel and Perspectives on Anarchist Theory.
Editor: Dana Gornall
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