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It was 2 o’clock in the morning and my sinuses were killing me.

Almost exactly three years ago today, I had flown to Melbourne for a conference. Intoxicated by 75-degree air in February, I had left open the door to my hotel room’s porch, to savor the exotic experience and listen to the surf, 80 feet down and a hundred yards away.

But now, my sinuses, affronted by air travel and appalled by mildew and unaccustomed seaside moisture, had thrown up the barricades in open revolt, and it was hard to breathe, let alone sleep. I had to close the door.

But before I dragged it shut, I stopped to look out. Far below me, the lights of the hotel faded across the tawny sand to the surf, which was an uncertain line of gray in the dimness. To my left, clusters of hotel and apartment lights attenuated beside the shore till nothing remained but the more-or-less-regular sparks of streetlights along U.S. 1A up toward Cocoa Beach. Beyond the surf, dim sparkles hinted at moving water, and beyond that was only the deepest, purest black I can remember ever seeing. Above, a haze gave back the lights of the shore as a gray-blue and faded away to the invisible horizon, where the sky was as uncompromisingly black as the water. No stars. No passing ships. Not so much as an airplane.

Against such darkness, the brilliant shoreline seemed puny. A light wind covered any hiss from the surf, but a heavy thud …. thud … thud … carried to me. (I wonder now if the frequency of the waves changes with wind and weather, or if it’s a function of the saltiness of the water and the shape of the bottom -- whether hurricane waves crash at the same frequency as those I saw, but a much greater amplitude.)

It was a scene to make you feel -- well, I didn’t feel small, but soft and ineffective. I remember the chorus of a Shape Notes song came to mind:

The Earth and sea shall pass away, and the…e…e …e old rolling skies.

It’s a great old song if you disregard the words. I hummed it to myself. The unpleasant feeling in my sinuses reasserted itself, and I remembered why I stood there. I closed the door, turned on the air conditioner and went for the decongestants.

Eschatology comes easily after midnight, a thousand miles from home, when one is wearing only pajamas. Processed air and chemicals put me readily back to sleep.

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