Dinner flight

The west shore of Michigan's lower peninsula is a steeplechase of dunes that race up and down along the sandy beaches from the Indiana state line north to the Straits of Mackinac. In their overlook of blue Lake Michigan they afford spectacular views, of sunsets especially.

My wife and I were enjoying one from a lookout platform near our cottage. The sun seemed to speed up as it neared the horizon, like a sprinter in a final burst of effort. Obediently the day stretched out across the white-flecked lake to take its leave also, and I was glad to see it go. For reasons too trivial and too many to mention here, this day had not been one of my best.

''Look,'' I said to my wife as the sun, about the size of a quarter, sank to within a hair of the dark, hard line where sky and water meet. ''Watch it splash right into the lake on the other side.''

''What is that over there, anyway?'' she asked. The wind brought tears to her eyes, which still show the bright points of a sharp mind.

''That'' was approximately Racine, Wisconsin. Illusion had shrunk 93,000,000 miles to 90. With a hiss that seethed beyond our hearing the sun plunged into the water somewhere between Racine and Milwaukee, just as I had predicted.

''Come on,'' said my wife. ''I've got potatoes in the oven.''

Walking back to the cottage through the evening that was seeping in from the east I was still picturing the sun. It was too busy to bring a steaming cataclysm to the Wisconsin shore. Right about then it was firebombing the heavens above cities and plains farther west.

The plagues of the day sent me yearning after distances. I rose up and joined the phenomenon, sharing the successive dramas it staged for earthlings - setting fire to the skies of Iowa, tinting the desolate beauty of the Dakota Badlands, dipping in salute to the Alamo, and finally breaking free of the landmass and setting out across the Pacific for the Spice Islands.

We kept pace, the sun and I, to keep our diurnal appointments. We floodlighted the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor, hung out the Japanese flag over Tokyo, hoisted the curtain of day on Vladivostok and Mandalay, and moved on to light the way for the Great Wall of China that has been wandering up and down the northern reaches of the land for 600 years. Vaguely I heard my wife say my eyes were glassy, did I feel well? but I was sure it was only these solar altitudes.

Across the immensity of Russia the sun and I coursed, thrusting daylight ahead. We traveled on to announce another day equivocal for the troubled Middle East and usher in renewed expectation for the impatient nations of Africa, for which the night of history has been too long. From this point of view my personal troubles seemed insignificant indeed.

We cruised over vast oil fields whose combined energy is but a smidgen compared with that of my companion, who shows up for work every day. Just to show who was boss, the sun allowed cloud cover to block out its rays as we approached Versailles, where there once lived a monarch who had the impertinence to call himself the Sun King.

Then downrange we soared for the New World. We raised the dark from America's Eastern Seaboard and sent bluish velvet spreading across Newfoundland, New York, and into Pennsylvania. Ahead I saw our first rays of Detroit's new day widening out like a spatula, prying the night away from Michigan. Then we climbed high over the horizon and glowed fire down on the dunes and the cottage. Journey's end.

A fantastic trip. Far out. But in no way did it get rid of the vexations of the day. There they were waiting for me, a distasteful garnish on my lake trout.

From across the room at her TV table my wife looked closely at me. ''I know something's bothering you,'' she said. ''Your mind has been wandering. Whatever went wrong today, it's over and done with. If I know you, you did your best. Things will go better tomorrow.''

She does have a way. My appetite picked up. Over the number-mumble of the news on TV I re-created for her as much as I could remember of my flight of fancy. She's the practical one of us, so I didn't expect her to get very excited about it. And she didn't.

''I'm glad you're back,'' she said, smiling. ''Eat your salad.''

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