Thursday, July 15, 2010

Walking By Starlight

I just got back from a night walk; though I am back in my little travel trailer, the most passionate part of my mind is still out there on the road that curves through the woods.

I have to walk south, downhill from my place, to get away from urban life. I have neighbors here, who have installed pinkish sodium vapor lights high up on poles. These people moved here from the city and tried to bring the city with them. I hate those lights.

I walk about a quarter of a mile, to where the gravel road curves west, and the dense trees obscure all traces of electric light of any kind. It's 12:30 a.m. The moon has already disappeared below the horizon. The only light I can see is starlight.

My husband wrote a book called Reading By Starlight, a scholarly work about postmodern science fiction. I love the title of that book and think about it now, walking down the pale gravel road. Even though I know how bright starlight is, and expect it, I am always surprised at how well I can see. There's my shadow, surrounding my feet like a small puddle.

I stop, listen, sniff the air. I smell water and animal-scent that is not mine or my dog's -- deer maybe? I'm not sure. The night is far from quiet -- I think of when I was a little kid and my dad and I would listen to music together, and he would say: "Listen. Can you hear the violins? Can you hear the oboe?" Now, in the woods, I try to pay attention to each sound in turn. There's the constant pulse of crickets and six other insects I don't know. I wonder if anyone knows. Since they only perform their concerts at night, and since, from the sound of it, they are high up in the trees, it would be difficult to catch them at it. Two kinds of owl calls -- a great horned owl and, I think, a screech owl. And then the frogs start up. I am filled with joy. If I were a child again, I would fling out my arms and run, as I used to do. But I'm old, and my knees are shot, so I do the next best thing. So help me, I can't resist - I howl. A fairly soft, polite little howl that sets off my dog. I've trained him to do duets with me. When we pause, I find, to my delight, that a coyote has joined in. Or maybe two or three. It's hard to tell with coyotes. One of them can sing several parts and fool you into thinking there's a whole pack. Then someone else howls, a longer, deeper howl than the coyote's -- a dog? A wolf? A coyote wolf hybrid? I feel a little prickle of fear, just a tiny jolt of adrenaline like a refreshing drink of cold water.

I wish I could sleep directly under the stars tonight, in a hammock strung between two trees. But I have to work tomorrow, so I head back to my den.

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