Friday, October 27, 2006

while you were asleep

For as long as I can remember I have come awake around 2 am, every night, and just lain there for awhile. No reason, just taking a break, I guess. The difficult thing for me is to avoid fretting over daytime issues until my thoughts are circling as I lie there, because that leads to nothing but morning, and me still wide awake. So I find other things to occupy my mind until I fall asleep again.

I have grown very fond of listening to the sounds in the darkness and listing them one by one. As a child I did this to combat the ghosts and banshees...ruling them out by elimination. But being me, and being a child, identification lead to the need to confirm-at least that's the story I'm sticking to- and that lead to midnight rambling. Being eight years old wandering through the streets in the dark trying to figure out whose dog is barking or whose radio is on is not the safest or the smartest thing I've ever done. Fun, though.

Standing under the streetlight down the block I made the acquaintance of impossibly tiny bats, their fluttering and their chirps and squeaks and their little cries of joy when they caught a big white moth and all their bat buddies came to crowd around and look and comment.

I discovered that birds fly at night, high high up near the clouds. The whispered migrations of birds silhouetted against the stars is a very beautiful thing, their voices muted and their feathers brushing overhead in waves.

Barn owls are conspicuous by their utter absence of any sound at all as they pass over. They will soar close enough to touch your hair and make you gasp. Your only warning is a creamy hush moving swiftly overhead and the startling white flash of their hooked legs swinging past and gone. The next thing you might hear is the last call of a mouse or a rat as those hooks carry it away.

One summer night recently I laid and listened to a sound like the seaside as the tide washes the gravel but much fainter than that, although still plenty loud enough in the night here because of our isolation. I finally went to the open front window and turned my flashlight on the field across the street. It reflected back to me in the green eyeshine of seven coyotes, milling and milling, crossing and recrossing each other like ice skaters, their feet and their fur brushing as they trampled down the the hay nosing after rodents.
They only spared me the briefest glance, inside my house with my eyes like saucers.

Now I would still rather see coyotes close, for all their wild slinky looks, than hear them. Or at least I'd rather hear them at a distance, already in song, coursing up the dry creekbed and going in the opposite direction. This is why: A pack of coyotes bursting into sudden chorus close at hand sounds like the earth has split open and the insane dangerous dead are howling and gibbering as they escape from Hell.
It is not romantic.
It is not evocative of the Old West.
It is freaky.

I've never had a clear look at the owls that call to each other all night, except one quick scary glimpse when I startled one up from the side of the road and it flew across my windshield, all eyes and claws and tan belly filling up the entire glass. They roost in the top of fir trees and call in turns up and down the valley, one hoot, a pause, then a hoohoooo. They have a very gentle voice, very mannerly and patient sounding. Their flight is not quite silent. You hear a small sound as they pass over, a 'whisssssh' which could be a vocalized hiss; I'm not sure. To be lying on your back in the night watching the Perseid meteors blaze down and have one of these owls cross through you line of vision is an awe-inspiring thing. They move with the same deliberation as a ship under full sail in a light breeze, smooth and slow and unsettling in their size and silence.

I have always lived within hearing distance of trains, and of all the sounds in the night trains are my favorite. I can hear the rails screech shunting cars off to the Ellenbaas siding, and the big freight trains rumble car by car as they slow at the border, at the creek, at the highway and then gather speed on down the valley. The horns sound off first far up north, in Canada, and once again south approaching Nugent's Corner, in the middle of the fields of corn.

When I was much younger, on my rambles through the neiborhood at night, catching glimpses of televisions tuned to blue static in the darkened front rooms of careless people, I was struck by the nighttime occupation of dogs. Whatever it was, they seemed to take it very seriously. Dogs with a mission. Dogs with places to go. Dogs who came to me to be petted during the day would pass me down the centerline of the street, giving me a smile as they went by but never stopping even if I called them. They'd toss their head back like 'Yes, I heard you, but I have to go!' with that same dog smile and continue on. I went as far as the wooded lot that bordered our school playground one night, expecting to find the trails full of dogs, but saw not a one. I reasoned that they might be sneaking out at night to play 'Wild Dog' in the woods together, but I guess they were doing something else. To this day that makes me wonder.

I remember going to sit by night in my grandmothers porch swing. She grew tawny daylillies, a hedge of them that bordered her porch. One out of every twenty, perhaps, had the faintest, sweet aroma that came up full and round during the night, although the flowers that showed out at noon were now tightly curled shut once and for all. You could smell the fat concord grapes that grew up and over the porch too, and the big black cherries getting ripe in the light of the moon across the fence. Some times she was awake too, and would come out and sit with me and we'd swing the porch swing fast until the frame began to lift and then we'd slow it down and laugh. Sometimes she'd fling off a slipper by accident and I'd go crawl under the swing and find it for her where it had landed in the grapes. The hot orange moon would pass overhead, and the stars would shine white and bright. We sang 'Harvest Moon' and 'Swing Upon a Star'. And very occasionally, off in the apple trees, a nesting robin would talk in it's sleep and my grandmother and I would stop to listen with the exact same delight, holding on to one anothers' arms.


  1. Jeezus! slow down girl I haven't had a time to read the previous post let alone this one - have you been at the slimming tablets again?

    im smoking a bit fat doobie at the mo' loved the pics of the Fabulous Freak Bros. Hippy Chick

    Yay! I'm first *cough*

  2. well gosh dangit! I like this post...made me think of being a kid playing red light green light under the shine of the night sky...don't know why that came to mind, but it brought back alot of memories of me being young and running around in the darkness.

    I love it, FN...friggin brilliant you are!

  3. MArvellous , an evocative post.I too am a nightime waker (3am for me) , I always get up and have a cup of tea with honey in it , and then go back to bed and have really vivid dreams.
    I used to live in a grotty bedsit(single room apartement) in london right next to one of the main heavy freight rail lines.At some ungodly hour a daily massive train used to head past , it used to shake my apartment so badly my bed used to move a good foot each night , but it was one of the most comforting things ever....Beasty snuggled down in a vibrating bed....if you timed it right with your partner , you could have bizzarre no effort sex :-)

  4. Anonymous2:30 AM

    FN - you need to write books, if you don't already. i could actually feel the breeze, see the colors, watch the owl and bats with you as if i were there too.

  5. frobi: i have every freak bros. and fat freddies cat ever published! and don't bogart that joint, my friend...pass it over to meeeeeeeeeeeeee.....
    awaiting: yeah...i started out wanting to write about hearing trains, and one thing lead to another. *blush*
    beast: that comment was damned evocative *ahem* that reminds me of the apartment in the movie 'Seven' where Brad Pitt lives!
    pink: *blush #2* thank you.

  6. Bats rock. They're so strange.

  7. I loved this description. My favourite parts were the descriptions of the barn owl and the bats and the birds in the sky. I could just imagine you standing there in the dark looking up into the sky. How lovely. I used to love looking at the animals as a child. I love the image of a child walking through the dark. I just picture your innocence and joy at experiencing all of those things.

  8. god you're good. really. i could hear everything you described. it reminded me of nights at summer camp when we used to sit in silence in the woods after dark and listen to the night animals. fabulous!

  9. Beautiful post, FN. I felt as though I were there with you. You are an incredible writer.

  10. tim: agreed. and you get to live in the land of economy-size bats, too.
    molly: i enjoyed remembering it, too! thanks!
    cb: see, i remember sitting in the dark toking up at summer camp...
    pam: *blush #3*

  11. i like this post, too.

    somewhere there it reminds me dear Clarice Starling.

  12. Goodness.
    Your writing can be such a treat dear girl.
    As a chronic insomniac who made my piece with that fact long ago, I know the very time of morning you describe here and can feel the same kind of wonder and affection for it.
    But your train sounds bit reminds me of one of my favorite nighttime reflection with a different feeling:
    "Hear that lonesome wipperwhirl
    He sounds to blue to fly.
    The midnigbt train
    is whining low
    I'm so lonesome, I could cry."

  13. oh i love this! how wonderfully descriptive and visual. the joy and commenting of the bats, the creamy hush of the owl (brilliant), your lonely wanderings and wonderings, nanny flinging off a slipper, the laughter and then the silence as you hold onto each other and listen to the robin talking in his sleep. wonderful. i had a tear in my eye at the end. i really enjoyed this! and of course i saw a thousand photos in my minds eye, which is a n inspiration. thanks!

    and thanks for popping over x

  14. fn: simply said, I love when you share this side of your writing. I felt like I was reading a novel about a little girl long ago and it was so relaxing and evocative. Just pictured you roaming about by the light of the silvery moon. Vintage indeed.

  15. Anonymous12:40 PM

    I too live next to a railway line. No freight trains. Occasional bats and howling foxes. I do have mysterious service trains that belch there way up and down reading the line.

    Ok so the foxes don't howl, they make little squeaking noises, wildlife in Britain is so very tame....

  16. trees: it was the Silence of the Clams.
    mutha: thats old timey music! we own that on a Slide Guitar compilation and I love it!
    pod anytime. Your place is great! my daughter (the SSA) and I love graffiti art and urban photos in general and you have the eye!
    g: i have some good memories from those days, thank god.
    MM: hey, what happened to the little swordfightie guy?...i wish we had cute foxes running around here...we have possums. they're like an obese rat covered in grey mold.

  17. I need to go to bed. Er, yeah, that was really quite magical x

  18. Gorgeous.
    Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous.

    Thank you for sharing.

  19. Wonderful, wonderful, FN. So evocative. I am a wee-hours waker, myself - usually around 3 or 4 am. Alas, it's not like when I was a girl in a small city or on the farm and I could listen to quiet, reassuring sounds like the ones you describe. Nowadays I'm in the city and it's all corridos and car alarms... I wake up and watch TV and eat cereal instead.

    I agree that you should write a book!

  20. I know I'm sensitive to noise,bright lights,change in weather, because of my autism spectrum disorder.
    I appercite the compliment on my blog. It's like I guess what I don't have my mind uses it's reasources.
    Since body lanquage is hard for me I'd have to trust intution.