October 10, 2012

Lessons from the Night. ~ Miriam Dunn

Photo: Miriam Dunn

Am I part of something, after all?

I ask myself what I know. This is where I always begin when I need answers: What do I know?

Tonight I am overwhelmed and begin with the basics. I know I am on a planet in the Milky Way, surrounded by other planets and stars and cosmic dust. I know I am alive, on a wooded hilltop, alone. I am utterly alone yet part of a grand communion of which I sometimes feel a part. I want to feel a part of it now.

It is a full moon and she glows so brightly I need no other light by which to write. The center of the sky is empty, but on either side float two long, wispy stretches of cloud. They look like flames, an eastern and a western nighttime cloud fire. They each spray out graceful fingers, opposite each other, reaching down to scoop up their own horizons. But they are moving closer, in a slow saunter across the expanse, until they are, finally, directly overhead. They are no longer flames, but angel wings. They have joined.

I am overcome by this. Am I being given a message? How can these two clouds cross the sky like this to form perfect wings that stretch from one end to the other? Has the universe conspired for me? Am I part of something, after all?

I decide to look elsewhere, everywhere, to see what other messages are there. I search the tops of trees, the grass beneath my feet, the stars. Scorpio is above me. Venus is in front. The Big Dipper is somewhere behind. There are no messages.

My feet are freezing.

Tonight is beautiful, but tomorrow I will get up in the scorching heat, feeling sore and ugly, and walk the guided path of the wildlife park, feeding otter and reindeer. A llama may spit on me. I am in a strange place. I am utterly alone, I think.

I am distracted by the sounds of love in a tent somewhere in the darkness. Why did we all choose to be so close when we have a whole countryside across which to spread? I have seen the same thing at beaches: although the ocean is vast and the shore is long, people pocket together in pools. People need one another. We are drawn together. But, I want to be alone tonight, even though I envy them both, man and woman, envy their shuffling and moans in the darkness. I hope they keep loving each other for a long time. But now coyotes have my attention.

Photo: Emilian Robert Vicol

To my right I hear a pack suddenly begin to howl together, as if someone had given them a signal. Then to my left, another pack: six, maybe seven more, crying, yelping. They are baying at my moon, or sending messages to one another. I like this romantic notion. Even the coyotes need one another.

The angel wings in the sky have changed now. They have leaned out, facing one another, north and south. On one side is a bird, its beak wide open. On the other is a claw that reaches out toward the open mouth. I ask myself again:

Could I be truly so close to the universe at this moment that this drama is playing out for me?

The couple in the distance expend themselves with one another. Another love has been made. A loon calls out from the river below me and the two wisps of cloud continue on their inevitable path to one another. The bird cloud opens its beak wider as the claw straightens out and makes a perfect entry. It has been swallowed. They have found one another, two clouds now one, indistinct. Even the clouds need one another.

And I think of how nature imitates nature. And so do we.

We are fractals, and I am a part of it. I am part of the beautiful drama that plays out.

I am lost in thoughts about microcosm and macrocosm and the endless, unanswerable riddle of my existence when a donkey brays into the night stillness. There is humor in this unexpected racket. It seems the silence is only intermittent out here in these woods which I share with these animals I cannot see.

They are awake and so am I.

I think the loons sound lonely. Or it could just be me. Surely loons are not sad all the time. Surely, they do not sound plaintive in the day.

I hear the river sing softly in the distance. It, too, sounds like a lament. I can see, in my mind’s eye, the infinite moonlit ripples on the black surface.

I am almost ready for sleep, but how can I leave this moon that has traveled across the expanse for me and kept me company? How can I sleep when the river keeps running, more loons may call, more coyotes may howl, the donkey may bray again? More angel clouds may appear.

This night world seems like my home to me and, just like the clouds, the loons, the coyotes and other wild things of the night, we need each other. This is what I know.


Miriam Dunn is a poet and essayist living on the pristine shores of Cape Breton on Canada’s Atlantic coast.




Editor: Jayleigh Lewis

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