Published Jan 28, 2007

I am from Baltimore, a place where the blackness of the night is obscured and turned pink by the city lights. Some people bemoan our loss of the night stars — astronomers with the most justification — but this soft blanket of three quarters of a million people’s porch lights and bedside lamps and flickering tvs in the den is something that is particularly, authentically, of our era. It holds in the sirens and car engines and chattering neighbors that provide the background for our reality, reflects them back at us, confines and radiates the atmosphere of the city. Perhaps I love this sky because I was born under it, perhaps I love it because it enveloped me every night. But I do love it.

It’s not that I wanted for shimmering lights in the sky as I grew up. Spring brought yellow-green fireflies, blinking in and out in front of a backdrop of gray-at-night houses and yellow-white sodium streetlamps. While fireflies leave no constellations, we’d follow these blinking dancers, laughing, our arms outstretched, as surely as any ancient Greek seafarer looked to the Milky Way. And then we’d snatch our north stars down from the sky, trapping them in glass jars and watching them slowly blink out.

High School, perhaps, was when I learned that the pink blanket of the night sky could wrap just me as easily as it could wrap the whole city. I moved my bed directly under a window on the third floor of my house. Because the hill we lived on fell away towards the back of our block of rowhouses, our basements, underground in the front, opened directly on to our backyards; my perch towered four stories above the back alley, a dormer window looking over our roof and the roof of the apartments across the alley, even further downhill.

At night I lay in my bed, my window just to my right, and lifted the venetian blinds ever so slightly to peer out over the city. Of course there was a pink sky everywhere, turning pinker as it receded south, towards Downtown, the Harbor, the Beltway, the Block. Only the peak of the roof of a house up the alley, and the angular exhaust and air conditioning vents of the flat-roofed apartment across it, interrupted the pink blanket. This pink turned a sudden gray at a ridge of slate roofs that themselves fell off into a sea of rounded and lush treetops, running from University Boulevard, all across Homewood and Tudor Arms, and on to Hampden. It was from here that disembodied sirens and car horns raised themselves, settling into the soft night blanket and reflecting, just a little, into my room. Every sound was a potential story, air-mailed to me by the flat pink sky that didn’t permit its escape.

I was at home under this sky. It had known me since I was born under it, it had seen me grow under its smooth arc. Los Angeles’s night sky has its own soft gray glow, silhouetting palm trees, and its own moving, flickering lights — this time airplanes headed for LAX, shinng in the sky but remaining stubbornly out of reach. But the pink, enveloping sky of Baltimore is the sky I was born under and grew up under, it’s the sky that still touches my thoughts every evening as I drift off to sleep.