Based on a Reddit writing prompt produced by user ifiufiweallfiforfifi. You can thank them for that one.
As a child, I used to squint to see the sun. My uncle John lived out west, where the willow trees grow free and the fields grow as far as one’s eyes can see. In my case, four eyes. As a kid, you’d think you could see four times as far and be able to spot stuff your friends couldn’t. It didn’t work that way. But one can imagine.
While my sweet glasses didn’t really impart superhuman sight, the earth had other things i”n mind. Hot winds would greet us as my brother, uncle and I sat before a nice campfire underneath the dark night sky. The winds started a long ways out, running down the backs of mountains and licking up the heat from the baked earth would send us nice hot breezes. The slight cool to hot eviscerates the mind.
Uncle John asked, “Daylight is finnicky. I’d tried to save enough of it over the years and found it just got out. I think I’ve nailed it.”
He traveled for work. He still travels but not as frequent-like.Billy chided, “But you just follow the sun. The earth turns…” He thought, and he finished with a confident nod. “And then you just follow the sun.”
John chuckled. “It’s easier than that, Billy.” He nods. “I keep it.”
I asked. “What? Solar power?”
John laughed. “I guess you could say.” He rose and said, “Let’s go!”
We left the campfire and entered the shed. Billy and I were not quite sure what he was up to, and I later told Billy I thought he was up to his usual tricks.
This shed was rather large — room enough for any sort of things two boys would want to mess with. Uncle John sometimes required us not to enter when he was in there, such as when he had the saw going to make furniture. But he would be in there for a while, and the sometimes snapping-on of the power saw did not sound.
We snuck in when he was out in the fields and look everywhere. It couldn’t have been his motorcycle, covered with a nasty, dirty tarp. The rusty two wheeled bucket smelled like corner garage and had an old, abandoned spider egg sack on the seat.
John took us to a back room and opened the door. While the boards were thinly spaced, the walls had impermeable material behind it — that is, inside the room. When he opened the creaky door, the most beautiful, brilliant lightshow I had ever seen emanated from a couple hundred glass Masn jars. The light wasn’t solid — rather, to say, it sparkled and moved above black-sleeved jars, poking out at all angles it could.
He smiled, seeing the look on our faces. “Well, come on in. Just shut the door.”
We two filed in and rubbed eyes. The brightness was like a candle flame in a dark room, except everywhere.
Uncle John smiled. “I collect light.” Little beams danced across his face. “I’ve done it for thirty two years.
I walked up to a shelf. The shelves — two jars deep and single-high — were painted black.
“I’m fifty three.” He laughed and winked. “This has always been my fun. Especially with those goofy faces you both are making.”
He searched for a minute and picked up one. “Ah, yes. OK. This. This one is from Costa Rica.”
He handed it to me. It was very very white, with a faint blue. It was quite warm in my hands.
Billy came over and held it. He looked up at me and grinned, one tooth missing.
All the different jars represented different places he had been. They were organized by continent or ocean-area. Each produced their own, beautiful, different, unique piece of sunlight.“This is Alaska.” He pointed. It wasn’t as bright as Costa Rica, but had a calming warm color. In fact, every jar bled through paper in a slightly different hue. “Alaska is my favorite. I take off the sleeve whenever I want to go back to that pure light.”
He nodded and smiled. “Go ahead.”
The paper sleeve came off with a few gentle tugs, rubber band clasping tight. For a moment I got lost. The light was bright, beautiful, blue-hued.
Uncle John smiled. “If you listen close enough, you could almost hear the caribou.”
A cow outside the shed mooed. We all burst into laughter. Billy snorted, and I laughed harder.
When we left the shed I felt like I had arrived home after a long, long time. It was difficult entering the moonlit backyard. I later learned the term for this was Rükkehrunruhe: returning to normal life after a great, memorable event; the memory of the event fades, and one tries to prop it up in the mind as if to maintain the reality of it. The word was as foreign as the first time I entered the shed, and as familiar as when I entered the shed the next time and left.
Next day, Billy and I stayed for three whole hours. My concerned uncle found us there, thinking we had run off into the corn fields and got lost. Nope. Billy just wanted to see if Greenland’s light was actually green, and of course tangents found us out until we looked through every jar. Billy’s face was sunburned.
My uncle gave a face, and Billy replied, “Um, worth it!”
I love going to his house. I still go every summer. He is older now and his sight is failing him. His wife is in on his secret and tells him, now, what the colors look and feel like. When I’m there, I spout off to him what I think this or that jar looks like. I wheel him into the shed, close the door, and ask him, “What country?
He usually replies one of three: Thailand, Spain, or, per usual, Alaska.