The maintenance delay in Baltimore, the frenetic jostle of Atlanta's crowded ramps, the low drizzly ceiling in Minneapolis, the myriad little challenges and rewards of the day — all these things have faded with last light, and only the dusky shadows of the day remain. The flickering gas flares of the Bakken Oilfield fade astern as we forge into Montana; the sole remaining lights are the stars twinkling to life above. The man to my left, gray-haired and weathered from a life spent in the upper reaches of the atmosphere, has fallen uncharacteristically quiet. He is no stranger to the night; in his youth he spent many anxious midnights alone over the ocean, counting the hours till he guided his craft home on a tiny, pitching carrier deck. He fidgets with a rheostat, one of 40 such knobs and switches in this well-worn cockpit, further dimming his flight instruments' incandescent lights. I lean back, look up through the eyebrow window and ponder the heavens. "Beautiful night," murmurs the captain, and I silently nod. This is my favorite time of day.