May 02, 2005

Even during peaceful walks at night, we need our points of reference

As summer nears, the yearning to take a walk at night grows.

For some, there is something disconcerting about stepping into the dark, as if monsters lurk there, waiting to pounce upon us from behind the bushes. But for me, the world at night abounds with peace. A walk into the unknown, after all, is largely a long stretch of quiet, punctuated with an occasional flare of discovery.

I took many such jaunts when I was younger and back on the farm. The evening's warmth always soothed my skin; after several minutes, I'd glance over my shoulder at the farmhouse, seeing its dimness beneath a rising moon, and then turning back to the woods before me, catch the nearby village's glow. I'd shift directions and head for it.

Crossing the alfalfa field, reduced to stubble by last week's haying, my eyes kept a close watch for gopher holes; though excitement at the sudden freedom reverberated through me, I had to maintain discipline so as not to catch my foot and twist an ankle. Crops give the false impression that a field is flat, but it really is quite uneven, as any pickup drive tossing your stomach around while fording one will attest.

Occasionally in the quiet, a squawk and rustle reveals some wild animal. There is a certain danger. Usually, a raccoon or a fox will scurry away, but catch it by surprise while it's dining on carrion and you could be bitten. And, of course, you never want to sneak up on a skunk.

Such alertness sometimes punctured and drained my stamina. Reaching a woodline, I'd rub my face, try to wipe the tiredness from it. Fortunately, a small depression lay beneath one wide oak tree - even in the dark we must have our points of reference.

If I was yawning too much, I'd aim for that and curl in its soft grass. Then I'd gaze up at the stars, watch them flicker as my lids grew heavy and my breathing fell into a lulling rhythm. Then the night softened, as if it were angels' hair.

(originally published May 2, 2004)

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