For more than two decades I shared my days with automobiles starting and stopping at poorly syncopated traffic lights, people rushing to work, class, or in and out of restaurants and stores along sometimes crowded sidewalks. The cohort with whom I shared my daytime space included slow moving vagrants, aggressive panhandlers, strolling tourists, and intently focused pedestrians. The ecosystems of the city blocks my previous two churches rested on could be busy places – one on the urbanized edge of a major university campus and the other downtown on a major thoroughfare of an historic city commercial zone.
Now, and for the last three years, my days have been shared mostly with birds darting between the trees and feeders in my back yard, stationary trees that nonetheless move and seem to possess different personalities. It is a busy scene too, every bit as busy as an urban landscape if not more so. But it is quieter, much quieter to human ears.
Night is even more different here than in the city.
Here, there is tremendous activity but the casual observer would never know it. Deer hardly make a sound as they forage in our yard for grass, or sneak apples fallen from the trees. Raccoon, skunk, opossum, fisher, coyote, beaver are all around in the dark but even my dog rarely hears them. I only know they were there with us because of evidence that appears the next day. Very occasionally, the bloodcurdling scream of an animal being caught in the jaws of another awakes us like a shot.
But in the city, at our last address, an angry F-bomb would regularly be dropped below our bedroom window from the violent mouth of some drunken reveler pissed off at his girlfriend or companion. A random gunshot at night in the city evoked a much different concern than the multiple shotgun volleys that wake us during duck season here along the lake. In the city, where we lived anyway, nighttime commotion and noise was not that much less than during the daytime, just different; as nocturnal light is different from sunlight.
I am going back to city life, a smaller city to be sure, but a proudly and intentionally urbanized one. I wonder how it will affect my writing? I am apprehensive. I expect change, most of the time I court it, but not knowing what it will be is unsettling. Sometimes I am curious and philosophical and at other times anxious and sleepless. That is to be expected, just how it is, I tell myself, feel it.
The strand of this quiet beauty I dread letting go of the most is the night sky. As a percentage of my waking hours I get to enjoy it the least, and yet it is the most dramatic, healing, and penetrating moment of the day. Walking the dog into the night, whether balmy or fiercely frigid, is unadulterated joy when the atmosphere is clear and the cosmos scattered above us in its glory. As awesome and exquisite as the vista from Mount Pisgah, it is the grandeur of starscape that lifts my skull and opens the eels of my brain to the outside air.
To the heart that keeps its window open, and to the hospitable mind that does not fear unknown visitors, life keeps giving new and ample gifts. I know this, and look forward with anticipation to the unforeseen. Yet having reconnected with a long ago relationship to the night sky, I am thinking about how to keep in touch with my new old friend.