Tonight a fox wandered along the edge of the driveway for a while, and when I went out about half an hour later, an opossum was foraging in the leaves and ran up a tree and played dead on a branch. It was kind of cute, actually, the way he just sat there probably thinking, “He can’t see me. I’m not going to move, and he can’t see me.”
Above him was a three-quarter moon, and Saturn, and Jupiter, and stars whose names I’ll never know. It’s a clear night here, upper thirties, and still, perfectly still. I sat at a table on the porch, cold, yes, but okay, and heard an owl out toward the river, and a dog somewhere. I always loved how sound travels at night, especially near water. Probably more so in an area like here where neighbors are few and far between and horse farms and plowed corn and soybean fields carpet the county from here to the Chesapeake.
One of my favorite movie scenes—in that I can relate to it I suppose—is in Thelma and Louise when they’re driving out west and a variety of shots shows Geena Davis looking at the desert, at the road, at the sun in the distance, and she turns to Susan Sarandon and says, “I’m really awake. Do you feel awake? You know, I don’t think I’ve ever felt so awake in my life.” Of course they just blew up an oil tanker, so there’s that.
But I’ve been fortunate enough to feel that way more than a few times in my life. Awake. It happens here pretty often.
From my porch I really can’t see more than trees until later in winter, but when I look north on a clear night, I can imagine the vast ocean silence stretching from here to Long Island where I picture childhood friends sitting in their living rooms watching television or just talking. Some are gone now, but some still live there, just a few miles from our old neighborhood. I’ll look south and see just over the curve of the earth, in some sort of simultaneous now, friends having drinks in Florida, and others in Georgia at their computers, writing, another near the gulf sitting on his back porch listening to a ballgame.
Mom’s asleep two hours away, my brother’s playing golf just fifty miles southwest of here, my sister five hours north is perhaps babysitting her grandson, all in their pulsating lives, right now.
Brian’s (the PA one) is having wine. Sean (the NY one) is at a movie shoot of some sort. Another Brian (FL) is doing an online reading talking about writing and dealing with loss; Sean (the Syracuse one) is somewhere in the world walking his dog; KL is trying to figure out why she’s not more German than she thought. My son is taking photos of water. The lives in my life are all present, and thinking of them reminds me I am present as well, as if they are proof, just as the geese gliding over right now are proof, or the tightness of my skin from the cool is also proof.
Someone is being born, others are dying, some are getting drunk and about to make a bad decision, someone else in some corner café drinking caffeine is about to have a great idea. Right now.
We spend so much of our lives on autopilot. I won’t flood this folly with carpe diem quotes, except to say too many of us learn too late that life is swift, and that there is a difference between “a life” and “alive.” We drift downstream with the current, caught up in conversations with others about the minutia, the meaningless. This isn’t to imply we shouldn’t have those interactions and focuses; it is simply a matter of balance, and there is no proof that this world is anywhere near in balance.
I’m not daft. I know I’m not pointing out anything anyone hasn’t thought of or doesn’t know. But step outside. Seriously, step away from the phone, the laptop, the television, the kids, the parents, the rest of everything that is and step outside and see what else is, and be present, be quiet.
I stood tonight and thought about where I was standing and how I got there; those times—and there have been more than a few—I thought I’d not make it through the night. Other times I didn’t want the night to end—and, thankfully, there were more than a few of those, too.
This is it. This is what keeps me going. Searching for moments of clarity, that awakeness. It can come on a mountain hike, sculling the river, or sitting quietly on the patio near the firepit on a cold night, sipping red wine, talking about the, well, the minutia, like the stars, the distant sounds, some light from a plane high above headed north, headed somewhere else. Being awake is spending time with someone with whom you don’t have to think about anything. Being awake is spending time alone and you don’t have to worry and anticipate or regret or second-guess. Being awake is akin to air; it is akin to water.
An owl just hooted here at Aerie somewhere behind me. And I can hear the diesel engine on a workboat, this late. On nights like this I swear I can hear clear across to Cape Charles on the Eastern Shore, and up toward Tangier, and up toward Montauk.
Colder weather is coming. It’s clear tonight, but clouds are moving in. Changes, constant turns and spins of expectations and wonder. Whenever I am in this state of mind, I remind myself it will inevitably change; as will the frequent moments of self-doubt. It gives me something to look forward to in moments of weakness, and, moreover, it reminds me to hold tight to the moments of such sharp clarity when I can almost feel like I understand my place among things.