September 21st, 2013

I Step Out At Night

I Step Out At Night

I have insomnia.  Sometimes I step out very late at night into my tiny back yard, a mere 5 paces deep and 15 paces wide, surrounded by a 6-foot wooden fence.  It can be half-past midnight, or 3 AM, or just before dawn.  When I step out the back door the motion-activated security light comes on, and I look around at the plants crowding each other in the minuscule space: a gangly privet; small beds of lemon balm and hollyhocks, spearmint and borage; containers of rosemary, ceanothus, sage, persimmon.  Cyclamen, aloe.  Cactus.

I take note of how many snails are out and about, including the tiniest hatchlings, some barely bigger than an apple seed.  I count how many I can find, and congratulate myself on being able to spot so many in spite of the poor illumination and their superior natural camouflage.  I look around in the foliage for spider webs and on the ground for pillbugs, slugs and even ants.  Sometimes I am startled to find a katydid in the very center of a hollyhock flower, appearing to eat the pollen.  I appreciate seeing the animal activity, modest thought it is.  It tells me all is right with the world that the creatures are going about their usual business at that moment.

I step further away from the doorway and feel the rough concrete walkway beneath my bare toes.  I judge how cool the concrete is and sometimes find it still slightly warm after a blazing hot day, even in the middle of the night.  I notice the slightly rank smells of pruned greenery, decomposing leaves and over-lush foliage filling the small space.  Such smells are absent during the heat and light of day, but come nightfall they appear like wisps of fog in the air, suggestions of more decay to come.

I scan the small patch of open sky between my house's eaves and the neighbor's roof to see if the moon is visible.  I try to identify constellations, something I've never been good at.  I try to discern the different colors of the stars, and wonder if I will spot a meteor or even a satellite.

I stand quietly and listen.  I sometimes hear a cricket in the lemon balm.  I hear train whistles at the level crossing a tenth of a mile away, an infrequent car, sometimes a faint siren in the distance, a rare small plane overhead.  Sprinklers across the street are a muted hiss.  On some nights I'll hear something screech, perhaps raccoons or opossums.  Often there are long stretches of silence, empty of all human or animal noise.  That is when I instinctively look around more alertly; I'm not quite sure why.

After three minutes of stillness the security light outside my back door automatically turns off, and I am momentarily lost in the darkness until my eyes adjust to the dim back door light of the neighbor across the fence.  I imagine if I remain motionless and invisible in the dark long enough, perhaps I will become one with the very fabric of the night itself.  This notion is curiously comforting to me.