I’ve not been sleeping well lately. The temporal length of night stretches endlessly, a slow, measured awareness of time. I close my eyes and try to center on my breath, but my active mind is unwavering and demanding.
Many nights I’ve given up the pursuit of sleep. I find the more I struggle, the more energy I expend. And energy has a way of creating energy. Therefore, it’s often best I slip into this fine-spun, cottony existence: a night shift form, a continuance of nocturnal wakefulness.
I find I am never alone. There are others who occupy these hours and regularly show up for the anchor watch.
What is it that wakes me? It could be the moon.
At the moment, it’s fully round and luminous, as large and potent as a Hollywood spotlight advertising a movie premier. It peers through the glass door to my bedroom balcony, illuminating the room as if the dinner party was finished, all the guests have left and we were preparing to search for a woman’s lost earring.
Sometimes I’ll wander outside, amazed at the clarity of night, convinced this might be an opportune time to bend down and finally weed a patch of garden I regularly ignore. But then I am distracted by the fireflies.
And what are their briefly kindled bodies if not a wink meant to tease? Like a child drawn to the sound of the tinkling ice cream truck, I too must chase these will o’ the wisps, to catch one maybe, or simply be close enough to see their alluring alchemy up close.
Maybe it is the forlorn owl, woebegone and patient in his solicitous appeal to be answered, that rouses me from my listless state. I’ve heard his beseeching notes seep through the stone and wood and plaster meant to protect me from such invasive intrusions. But perhaps his degree of desolation is one that travels in a way yet undefined, but innately known.
The whippoorwill converses with friends. He is persistent with his practice, determined to perfect a call with nuance so subtle, only the finest and truly dedicated of musicians would recognize this desperate quest for perfection. I hear the same pursuit from the scales and arpeggios of my daughter’s violin–often at that bewitching hour–late and lonely and languid. To me, it’s up and down and up again. To her, it’s day and night, oil and water, thick and thin. The differences so palpable, so sharp, and so lonesome a club membership.
Oftentimes, I’m brought out of my light stupor by the chorus of coyotes at a rowdy clan gathering. Their yipping, crazed cries for action depict a bloodthirsty plan, and its poorly written code is broken by my nervous sheep. They send their own secret slang that easily reveals their fearful tally of the numbered enemies. At this point, my faithful hound lifts his sleep-laden head and rouses to the call of duty. He takes one moment to listen intensely for classification of intruder and direction of the assailants and then he blasts through his door like a bullet out its chamber.
There is a forceful announcement of the acknowledged trespassing–a warning shot thrown over the bow–and a detailed promise of injury to come, his amplified version of Don’t make me come down there.
Then again, it’s nearly impossible to sleep through the din of amphibious pining. Once the Festival of Frog has begun, nothing but a cold snap will freeze their lips shut, and this is a long way off. Yet their summer sonata is a resonant one where the cold-blooded instruments move with ease from croak to peep to trill. They are an orchestra sans conductor, impromptu with timing, but lyrically musical with their swampy cadence.
It may easily be the sound of the crickets keeping sleep at bay. They punch in for work as soon as the afternoon shift of cicadas clocks out, one choir replacing another. Except their tune melds effortlessly into mind-numbing Muzak. That is, until there is one lone fellow, desperately lost and forever separated from his family, who seeks sanctuary beneath my bed, calling for reinforcements.
More likely it is the sound of a stirring breeze that catches my ear. This is the intro to the flutter of leaves, which whirl in a tiny, tight panic. Another nod to the wind section excites the wind chime section, which announces the herald of the low timbalic register of thunder. Distant and rumbling at first, it can quickly crescendo to clashing blows and a tremulous, foundation shaking finale. No lullaby, indeed.
When the performance is finished, I envision the remaining debris: leaves scattered like discarded paper programs and sticks tossed like spent sparklers from an Independence Day display.
But it is still night, and I am still awake.
The only remaining sounds are that of the tired dog, tasting something yet uncaught in his drowsy moment of rest between patrols, and the sleuthing cat, who cannot manage a leap up onto furniture without uttering the human equivalent of an “alleyoop,” and cannot come down from any without allowing a forceful grunt of air to audibly demonstrate the effort as well.
No matter. I choose to look at this misfired attempt at sleep as a mere rehearsal: one meant to work out the squeaks and missed notes. It’ll all be fine come show time.
Practice makes perfect.
Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.