Recently I have taken to walking in my neighborhood late at night, drinking in the sense of comfort that darkness allows - taking away the often times harsh and rough edges of daylight. Summer nights are a glimpse, acting as a portal back to the magic of childhood that too often we as adults with our busy lives, and especially under these strange and dystopian times we live in - seem to have forgotten. But that magic is readily available to all of us just outside our front doors. Nights for me have always been a time for exploration, through walking, through late-night reading, through sitting out under the night sky just star-gazing. I once spent a night far from the glare of city lights watching the heavens with a friend, counting shooting stars, catching glimpses of the Milky Way talking about our childhoods – about that sense of freedom as we wandered our respective neighborhoods looking for adventure. A friend, who was a wildlife veterinarian but later in life would become an astronaut – giving him a unique take on the stark beauty of infinite darkness with a view of our beautiful yet fragile planet hanging in the balance – looking down rather than up.
Several days ago I began my walk at 11:00, the thinly curved crescent moon peeked through the leaves, balancing high in a deep navy-blue sky, with a few wispy gray clouds skittering past. Night is womblike, safe but full of unexpected surprises. Once while walking on a moonless night, in the distance I heard a skunk having a chatty conversation with herself as she came around the side of a house – she was inordinately white on top so I could easily see her waddling towards me in the deep darkness. She continued talking to herself as I stood still and silent when she passed nearby – off to who knows what adventure awaited her but she seemed (to me at least) to be on a self-righteous mission as her disgruntled chirping receded into the night.
I adore the sounds of crickets and cicadas but it is still too early in the season and they have yet to make their presence known, and because of that it is intensely quiet, allowing for various sounds to carry further. Last night I heard the strains of piano chords from a nearby home and stood for moment just listening as the notes danced through the air. Sometimes the scuffling of creatures in the undergrowth – squeaks, pips and what sounds like squabbling can be heard. This time of year the night air is close, humid and hot, so the fecund smell of flowers, of fresh-cut grass, of past summer nights permeates the air – another evocative nudge towards childhood memories.
There are miracles in our everyday (and every night) lives – and it is usually the natural world that reveals them. Earlier this week, turning the corner from a heavily tree-lined street to one with few if any mature trees, I caught my breath at the now quarter moon as it shone brightly in the dark. The juxtaposition of the illuminated curve in relation to the remaining mysterious dark three-quarters of the moon gave the illusion of a clearly defined three-dimensional ball floating - as if it were suspended by a string in the night sky.