The House At Night
Well after midnight, my sister comes to say goodnight. She takes her dogs to bed with her, and softly shuts her bedroom door. I note the time; for the next hour or so, I will continue with whatever quiet thing I was doing in the back of the house before she went to bed. We’re both heavy sleepers, but she stirs easily when she’s just fallen off.
The new light on the front of the house casts a warm glow on the entrance to my screened-in porch. The door is swung wide open, hanging lazily on worn hinges. I’ve had my eye on a new one for some months now. My cats are in no hurry to come in tonight- they have food left in their dishes, the air is warm, and they’re betting on the durability of the mouse population. The rhododendron that line the driveway are blooming, and there is just enough light to give the white blossoms an eerie shine. I can hear the trickle of the creek on the other side of my antique boxwoods. The lights from the barn next door peek through in places.
Three days worth of dishes clutter the kitchen counter, rinsed and neatly stacked but overflowing into both sinks. With a rhythm years in the making, I empty the clean dishes and load the dirty ones. Cool air rushes in through the open windows as my mind wanders aimlessly over the events of the day. There is nothing to hear but my thoughts and the gentle noise of the window fan in the laundry room, save the occasional clink of a glass as my hands line them up in the top rack. There is a recollection of information, and a noticing. A wide but brief smile, a practical mental note or two, that ache of regret, but nothing more intense than a brief flash before moving ahead with the process, this filing. As the stack in my mental inbox grows thinner, the pace slows and a clarity I’ve chased all afternoon settles in.
I can hear myself think again.
While the dishwasher springs to life, sloshing with a tempo just slightly too mechanical to be mistaken for tides lapping sandy shores but reassuring for its consistency, I line the wine glasses up next to the sink. Most of them can go into the dishwasher when it’s unloaded again, but my favorites need to be hand-washed. Wiping down the counters, I’m reminded of how many things in this room were gifts from those I love dearly. My blue stand mixer, the coffee grinder, my green and blue cookie jar, the basket that serves dual purpose as a bookend for my cookbooks and its intended use as a recipe holder. In it are my own recipes, several old family recipes, and a few clumsily torn pages from magazines, full of promise but yet untested. When I turn out the lights, the bulb over the stove paints a low buttery light on the counter tops. It’s off a shade or two, but it reminds me of the late arrivals and pre-dawn breakfasts received in my grandparent’s kitchen.
It is just this mood that often inspires me to write; a low hum of remembering and noticing without visceral reaction. Recently, I’ve found it useful for higher-level work: strategy, analysis, problem-solving. The quiet knowing that has brought me this far is much easier to hear when my part of the world is sleeping peacefully. The television, the animals inside, the forty-seven dogs and several sheep that live next door and even my dear sister produce an accumulation of energy that drowns out that frequency, rendering it a frustrating mix of broken broadcast and loud static.
There’s quite a bit of love and joy in that cacophony. It can be used productively for routine work and is often full of inspiration, but contemplation is near impossible for me by the light of day.
Hours slip by like minutes at my desk, music befitting my endeavor playing softly, coffee growing cold between breaks. When I notice the darkness lifting out of the cove, I gather my watering cans and fill them while the grey absence of light or darkness reveals the familiar landscape of my backyard and the southwest-facing cove of Ferguson Mountain. Oddly, if my schedule doesn’t dictate my waking hour, I will most likely open my eyes when the sun finally arcs over the ridge in the early afternoon.
The rooster crows next door while I move around the porch, sticking a bare finger knuckle deep into the soil of each plant and tipping the spout over the edge of the pot. I pull a yellowed leaf off of my crown-of-thorns, untangle the stem of my Grandma’s hoya bella that determinedly winds itself around the hook and chain it hangs from, pick a soggy leaf from her African violet, a protest to an ill-timed watering.
Inside, the living room walls appear luminescent as the first light of day shimmers softly against the creamy white semi-gloss I picked out last summer. I can still smell the paint in the cool, damp air while I attend to the plants that line the walls of the living room. The hoya carnosa I bought a week before moving to Asheville is overflowing from its nine inch pot, vines wrapped around the window shade and hanging just above the bookshelf below. My sister’s formidable bamboo specimen and the cuttings I took from it this spring are flourishing in the other window.
I’m lulled to sleep by the cool morning air and birds faithfully greeting the dawn. When I wake in the daylight, I’ll be deaf to these details. Their songs will be lost to the bright light and addling heat of the afternoon. My mind will hum an octave higher, so that the slightest interruption evaporates a thought before it can be captured properly.
So. That’s why I stay up all night. Wouldn’t you?