Post #48: Night Itself

IMG_1374You hear it first. Really, how could you miss it?

It sweeps through with the breathtaking blur of Gene Krupa’s flailing sticks badgering and barumphing at the skins, cajoling wave after wave and whoosh after whoosh of sound. Millions of tiny jubilant splashes in a muscular trill, a cacophonous drumroll of rain.

The truth is I wasn’t expecting the storm at all. As always, it was night itself I was after.

***

Drive-in Movie: 1965

it was the pajama ride of our dreams. The three of us rattled around the expanse of backseat like kernels sizzling in a popper. We had pillows but no one was going to waste time sleeping. It was just getting dark as my Dad pulled into a parking spot and fitted the receiver onto his window. We made it! The dancing hot dog on the screen said there was just enough time to get to the snack bar. Hurry, hurry, hurry! We wanted Good ’n Plenty! We wanted Milky Ways! We wanted Raisinettes! We got a box of popcorn. For the three of us. To share.   If I stood up I from my spot in the backseat I could almost see the bottom half of Mary Poppins through the front window. No, we were not going to lay out on the hood of the car like those other people.

I turned my back to the movie and instead looked out the slanted rear window. I could see the whole sky, black as licorice. There were stars. They sparkled like Sno-Caps.   My very own snack bar, my very own show.

***

Oak Park Boulevard: 1967

It was all wrong, completely wrong, totally wrong. Which of course made it feel so very right.

A quick scissor kick (I was learning to swim) and I was free of the covers. The summer darkness in the house was damp and foggy. I gingerly felt my way to my hearts desire, left conveniently on the floor. There it was! I had it.

Light sliced from the bathroom and slanted through my doorway just so. I was drawn to it like a nightgowned moth. Very carefully, very quietly I cracked it open.   Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle! I loved this so much. I couldn’t wait until morning. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle had an upside down house.   You could jump over doorways! You could swing down stairs! You could sit around her chandeliers and pretend they were campfires! An upside down world where everything was just right.

Looking out at the comfort of the darkness I wished that night was day and day was night. An upside down world where everything was just right.

***

Wawa, Canada: 1972

We were not exactly roughing it, unless you consider roughing it taking an overnight on the camp bus and pitching a tarp in a local trailer park. Grudgingly we took a walk into town to forage for food, proudly procuring a few Coffee Crisps, several Mackintosh Toffees, a whole salami, and a can of Pringles. We hoarded this stash shamelessly. But it was going to be okay. We just might survive our time in the wild.

I waited until it was dark and everyone else was asleep. Silently I untwisted from my sleeping bag and crept from the bus. With small, stealthy steps I quickly made my way down the path to the lake. The dark around me was dense and verdant, packed with muffled sound. I kept my flashlight beam low. Then I snapped it off. Why would I need it? The whole sky above was massed with stars, a swirling and twirling marching band before my eyes!

No one would ever believe it. I had found Van Gogh’s The Starry Night in Wawa, Canada.

***

Dominos Pizza, Ann Arbor, 1981

He pounded furiously, stretched gently, then casually flung them into the air and then down the line. Dough after dough. Never missed!   I was the toppings girl, plunging my hands into various vats of pepperoni and onion and mushrooms as if I was playing a never ending game of Whackamole. Sausage was awful and sticky. I had to keep plunging my fists into the olive juice just so I could scrape it off my hands.   I dreamed of graduating to saucing and cheesing. But not just yet.

I got off at 2 am.  It wasn’t at all quiet. Let’s get real: here at night any night percolated with adventure! But I headed for home. My plan was to be up and out by 8 am. Because that’s the quiet time here. I grabbed it.

Had my Piggle-Wiggle dream come true?

***

Riverside Drive: 1993

They are so tiny, so very small. “I’ve bought chickens bigger than that!” someone squawked as I hurried anxiously past with the double stroller. I know. They were identically fed from droppers, one boy in my arms, his brother in a rocker. I switched their places every 15 minutes. It took over an hour to feed them, each time every time. They had to eat every three hours around the clock. They took turns sleeping but they were too small to know that there was no turn left for me. Day and night blended to charcoal.

Around the corner, Big Nick Burger lit up the dark. Everything you could wish for hot and ready 24 hours a day. I wanted it. We were, after all, in the city that never sleeps! All I had to do is get off the couch…

***

Our House: Just now

The storm itself has taken a breath but the rain continues, a ready steady strum. At last the night is what I was looking for, deep and velvety and enveloping.

There is no noise to speak of. There is so much to hear. I’m listening…

Dawn always catches me by surprise.

Post #45: Sfumato

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I fell in love with a book. And through that book, I fell in love with the world.

It was a gentle summer city night. City dark isn’t really dark at all but actually more of a sfumato, mysterious, entrancing, and lit by the soft buzzy glow of streetlamps. The Strand, that warm and inviting forest of books, beckoned and as always I was enraptured and ensnared.

It was in the relative gloom of the subterranean levels that I found it.

The cover, pedestrian. The title, bland. The book, heavy and ponderous.

The Green Treasury

I wanted it.  And so I bought it.

***

I live in a lovely, idealized checkerboard world, each precision piece in place. No moves without proper consideration.   Squared up, spruced up lawns all mowed to a brush cut precision. Color-coordinated flowers and precise, paint by the number backyards. Double jumping is frowned upon.

What is there wild and wondrous to see here? Nothing, I am certain. So I curl up inside and allow the pages of my book to cleave open a view to magnificent, pulsing worlds, from the rainforests of Peru to the gardens of Japan, from the mountains of the Sierra to the marshes of England.

*John Muir clings to a branch to ride out a windstorm in the forests of California.

*William Henry Hudson dreams of thistle down on the South American Pampas.

*Richard Jeffries wanders the still wild natural world at the doorstep of London.

*Gilbert White listens to the sound of crickets in Hampshire.

*Theodora Stanwell-Fletcher hears the calls of the wolves in remote British Columbia.

I want it. I want it all. I want it desperately. But there is nothing to see here.

***

On Sunday afternoon I glance out the kitchen window and spot a dense and ponderous sky above. At last! I pry myself out of the house, and wedge myself in a corner of the porch. Glass of wine in hand, I am ready for the show.

The air is moist and anticipatory and the charcoal clouds are thick and wooly, so low I feel as if I could hold them, squeeze them. If I did, would it open a deluge, a spray or spill?

Nothing is moving. Or is it? The wind is coming in gulps and sighs, shaking the branches and the leaves like row after row of beaded curtains, like a hula dancer’s hips, like so many maracas in a mariachi band.

The branches jitter and twitch, anticipating the thrum of the rainfall to come.

But not yet! The clouds bend and curl through the sky, a long twist of old movie film, a wordless soliloquy, coiling above. Suddenly, the wind exults and breaks free like a mass of children released from a day of school, with a power that makes ripples through the grass and re-parts my hair.

It’s time! I am so ready for the rain; eyes squeezed shut, face turned upward. But it doesn’t happen. Instead I feel warmth on my cheeks. Instead, the sun cleaved through he cloud cover. The blast of wind is now a mere breeze.

I catch my breath.

I sit very still, here, in the place I was certain there was nothing of interest to see, nothing to feel, nothing to experience. I am wrong. Here it is. The sky has come to me. Or perhaps I’m just ready to see it.

“There is no need for a faraway fairyland, for the earth is a mystery before us.”

–William T. Davis

But of course.

And at last I too am caught up and embraced by the sfumato of the clouds, right here, right outside my own doorway.

 

Post #43: The Pulse of Souls

IMG_2105Long ago

The streets and sidewalks were still damp and puddly from the nighttime rain. I edge out of the house and gingerly step down the drive. The street is shiny and wet.    I don’t look around. I look down. The milky, early morning sun is warm. It’s going to be hot. I have plenty of time to get to school. It doesn’t matter. I am going to be late.

I’m going to save them all.

And I try. Over and over I bend over to scoop their slithery, writhing little selves off the quickly drying pavement and onto the cool grass so they can burrow back into the earth. I can’t make heads or tails of them!  But I don’t feel triumphant as they slide off my fingers into safety. I fuss and I worry. Am I putting them back in the right place so they can find their families?

***

Last Week

Anxious, overwhelmed, fussed, I am way in the back, slumped in a seat, shrinking away from the crowd that surrounds me.   They are all looking up. I should be looking up. I should be but I just can’t. Instead I look down. A tiny speck.  A solitary ant, boldly and stealthily making his way across the floor. The brave advance guard! All alone.

Like the self-important Florence Nightingale of the insect world, I turn to rummage for a scrap of paper intent on scooping the tiny thing up and winging him to safety and freedom out into the sunlight.

But when I turn he’s been crushed. As am I.

***

In Between

There is a lot of in between here. I wonder, moving so fast for so long, what other small marvels have I arrogantly and short-sightedly overlooked? How much have I missed?

 

***

Last Night

I flit by here all the time. A quick glance out the car window, a heartbeat’s worth of appreciation, and my eyes are back firmly on the road, I’m zooming on my way. But tonight is different. Tonight I stop. Slowly I make my way down to the pond. And I sit.

I tap my foot nervously. Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go! I jitter and sneak glances at my watch.  What am I waiting for exactly? To be instantly embraced by the rhythms of nature? To have all secrets revealed?

The pond, surrounded by delicate trees and brushed by soft flowers, is down a gentle slope next to the library. It’s bordered by roads and as I sit I’m enveloped not by the spark of nature but buffeted by the whoosh of the engines as cars careen wildly around the corners. I can’t think.

If the steely-eyed drivers bother to glance out their windows as they roar past, they will see me sitting there. A tiny speck. Alone. I shift uncomfortably.

I won’t stay. Instead I make my way back up the path and to the library. The great indoors: my own Elysium. I enter and I am at once embraced by a cloud of quiet.

It’s here that I feel safe. Blanketed by thought, soothed by words, I find the peace that I’m longing for. It’s here that I can, for a few moments at least, just allow thought to wash over me like a salve.  Here, if I listen very closely, I can even feel the pulse of souls, both large and small.

And it is here, finally, that by myself I chide myself gently for what I have for so long forgotten to notice. And it’s here that I can too remind myself that there is always so much to see if I make the effort

to look up

and around

and always down.

 

POST #37: THE SCREEN TO THE WORLD

 

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It’s an assault from within and without.

We’re urged to stay in. Of course we’ll stay in.

TV weathermen, shirtsleeves rolled, buoyantly flapping their arms in the general direction of indecipherable, crayola bright maps are glorying that–at last!– the camera lenses settle on them for more than a heartbeat.

The men match their ties to the seasons. The women flex their biceps in sleeveless dresses and earnestly intone about wind chill factors and whiteout conditions. No mistake about it — everyone’s teeth are white as snow.

After 20 minutes or so of Mensa worthy graphics and cozy chats with regular people about soups and shoveling and sock liners, I turn off the set.

Instead, I look out the window.

It’s just before dawn. It’s still quite dark. The street lamps are glowing yellow and in that light I can just see the snow swirling, each flying with the daring do and tenacity of a million little Eddie Rickenbackers engaged in a tiny mid-air dogfights. How wonderful then that each flake is destined not to crash, but to calmly descend to its proper place, one atop the other.

Unused to quiet at this ungodly hour I’m sure it should be silent. But that’s as foolish as Aristotle’s untested assertion that heavy objects fall faster then light ones. It took Galileo’s climb to the top of the Tower of Pisa with his to put that fallacy to rest. Because of course, all silence is full of sound.

I listen and there it is! A muscular wind that leaps from its corner at the sound of the bell then feints and punches like a prizefighter. Wait! And just then, it blows with the power of a thousand sneezes!

If you believe what you see in picture books, snow comes down straight from the sky, clouds billow like so much marshmallow fluff, and the sun is conveniently tucked in the upper right corner. Nice and neat and we’re done.

But this snow does not stay between the lines. As I watch the snow comes crazily from all angles, riding the curls of the wind as it moves across the lawn, and rattles down the empty street.

Our beloved little dogwood trembles alone on the front lawn, its branches splayed like disheveled hair on a pillowcase. It’s immobile unmoving, — um it’s a tree, after all—but I shudder. I’ve just remembered that the tree, and so much else out there, is alive too..

Just then a little chipping sparrow lights on the snow-covered bush in front of me. It looks about for a moment then shakes itself off before diving deep into the labyrinth of the knitted branches.

Smart little thing! It’s found a safe cavern, as snug as the bed sheet fort my boys would construct with chairs and pillows under the kitchen table. Maybe it has stashed some seeds or crumbs there, just as my boys once hoarded bags of Rold Gold™pretzels and Apple & Eve™ juice boxes.

How many creatures then are bravely burrowed just out of sight? There is no Accuweather Minutecast ® to tell them when it all ends. They snuggle, they dream, they wait. They do know how to wait.

Can they feel the end of a storm? If we try, can we?

Instead we obsessively watch our glowing screens, our nervousness increasing with each 8-minute update, like anxious readers halfway through a book who impatiently jump to the last page to find out the ending.

If we didn’t watch would we fear for the end of the world? Or would we burrow in, believing as hard as we could that it would have to stop sometime? And when it did stop, we once again would dig our way out.

Either way we wait. We are not in charge. When was the last time I sat still for this long?

I look out again. The light has increased so the whiteness of the sky blends with the billows of the snow. The snow is blowing sideways. I didn’t know that was possible. I bend down to check my compass. It’s coming from the east.

I have no idea what time it is. But I haven’t moved from my window. Snowflake Bentley photographed thousands of snowflakes, each one of them ephemeral, beautiful and different from every other. I can see them piling atop each other, the piles rising and rising.

I know there are mathematical formulas to determine the exact amount of snowfall per hour. But I don’t care.  Let me leave that for others. But I wonder if my lifelong aversion to math relates to the truth that I really don’t want to control the world and it’s forces?

What I want very much is to be immersed in the world. To feel it. To respond to it. To respect it.

We are urged to stay in. Of course we’ll stay in.

But I go out.

Just for a moment I do. The snow, bolstered by the wind, peppers my face. It smears my glasses. It is so very cold. My outside breath feels thick, almost tangible. I can see it.

But I smile. Because I can actually feel it.