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Could someone explain what this modal verb actually means here?

I loved hanging out by the campfire after dark. I loved the way bits of fire dust would float up and disappear into the night air. And how the fire lit up people's faces. I loved the sound the fire made, too. And how the woods were so dark that you couldn't see anything around you, and you'd look up and see a billion stars in the sky.

1) Making a polite request - it just doesn't fit in both cases 2) Talking about the future in the past - I suppose it's possible to read the second example this way (because when woods were so dark guy hadn't seen stars in the sky, then he'll look up and from the point of now he said that phrase with 'would') 3) Using conditionals. 4) past habits I think the first example could mean habitual behavior of the fire dust (because the action was repeated more that one time)

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    The literal meaning is the same as the past indicative ("... the way the bits of fire dust floated up ...") but you are correct in our assumption that the actual effect is under your #4, habitual behavior. – Robusto Sep 29 '18 at 21:13
  • Robusto, you could flesh that out with a reference or two and make it into an answer. – Michael Harvey Sep 29 '18 at 21:18
  • I got it, thanks, but how about the second example? (and you'd look up and see a billion stars in the sky) – Through The Wonders Sep 29 '18 at 21:22
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    It too is referring to a past habit – Jeff Morrow Sep 30 '18 at 2:24
  • It's meaning 4 in all the sentences. Meaning 2 (talking about the future in the past) would be for something like this: "He said he would do it". "He understood he would lose". – Enguroo Oct 16 '18 at 0:01
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I loved the way bits of fire dust would float up and disappear into the night air.

In the sentence above "would" is used to describe an action which happened regularly (he/she loved hanging out by the campfire after dark; it happened more than once, apparently, and so hanging out by the fire led to the bits of fire dust floating up and disappearing...) in the past but no longer happens. The following sentences could use "would" too:

And how the fire lit up people's faces. = And how the fire would light us people's faces.

I loved the sound the fire made, too. = I loved the sound the fire would make, too.

In the last sentence of the passage "would" is used in just the same way:

And how the woods were so dark that you couldn't see anything around you, and you'd look up and see a billion stars in the sky.

He/she looked up / used to look up and see the stars in the sky regularly. He/she doesn't do it anymore.

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