Sirius rises in the east, Orion higher still with his three glittering stars aligned in tandem, red Betelgeuse in the fore and a wash of stars ghosting the heavens like the tendrils of fog wending the fields alongside the river. No moon nor pale sliver. Crickets fiddle their symphonies. Ant lions slumber in their earthy dens. Birds are silent save an occasional owl questioning the darkness. Who? Who? Just me, stumbling down the eroded stairs, fumbling for the car door, the coffee not yet kicked in, a weary dreamer sent out into the night. And I’d been sleeping so sound.
Lately I’ve been having a real problem with my alarm clock. It seems like right when I’m in the deepest dreamscape, when nocturnal imaginings are at their most vivid and unrelenting—for good or ill, it matters not—a jarring sound inevitably blasts me awake. Rather than smashing the thing with a fist I carefully slide a little lever to a secondary alarm position and lay back, heart pounding, eyes staring at a ceiling invisible in the darkness, and wonder why on earth we buy gadgets that limit our sleep. I groan. I grumble. I climb from bed and start the day.
Since midsummer’s heat spell we’ve moved to the lower bedroom, mostly out of expediency rather than any desire to trade a king-size luxury air mattress with dual adjustable chambers and three inches of memory foam for a sagging full-size spring mattress our sons once slept in. It’s certainly cozier than the larger bed, and much more uncomfortable, and we have the advantage of not having to mitigate the heat that collects upstairs like unwanted bills. Though the house is equipped with central air conditioning, the singularity of the second floor vent renders it useless. A window a/c unit helped but unfortunately its output was too little for the too much it’s required to overcome. The deciding factor was a particularly exorbitant electric bill which led us to reduce expenses by sleeping downstairs.
This is only one of a long list of quirks this house possesses. Interior walls are as plumb as the Leaning Tower of Pisa, several windows are caulked shut to stop drafts, the rear addition is utterly uninsulated and the oak floor sags in places. Missing roof shingles give the house a snaggletooth look. But the place has ‘character,’ that indefinable aggregate of distinctive features, characteristics and qualities that in anywhere other than rural America would be considered deficiencies.
Indeed, our house, and notably the lower bedroom, perfectly illustrates the opposing cosmic forces—the yin and yang—of life. Though the bed is too small, the windows can open, an impossibility upstairs. Though crowded with Lori’s loom, sewing machine and fiber supplies, it’s closer to the bathroom, which is a plus at my age. Adaptability is never so crucial as when owning a century-old house or living at our financial means.
Being able to open the bedroom window has led to some surprising thoughts. Where before the act of going to bed was merely perfunctory, now it’s an adventure. The vast acreage of the master bed had dulled my mind to equate it to a mattress and nothing but. The diminutive size of the downstairs bed, though, is more reminiscent of our little backpack tent, and I found that whenever I crawled into it I pretended to zip the door closed and snuggle into a cool nylon sleeping bag. Beyond the thin fabric of the tent the stars wheel in their celestial arc, denizens of the night sing their songs, and the convergence of the two creates an atmosphere of ease and harmony, the sweetest lullaby sending me off to the Land of Nod.
And then the alarm goes off and shatters the illusion.
Having the camper in sight of the open window no doubt fuels this idea, as does my impending trip to the Four Corners region. Cooler temperatures also help. Sometimes I imagine aligning my tent with the lunar standstill, as is the main bulwark of Chetro Ketl, an Anasazi city in Chaco Canyon, or along a gridline toward the winter solstice, as at Wijiji, another of the cities. Adventure beckons and there’s no reason to limit it to the vacation itself. Even as in dreams, the simplest, most mundane act can be gilded with expectation and desire.
Preparing the bedroom for slumber was an adventure in itself. Since the room was lightly used for the past year or so, I was afraid it had become the dominion of brown recluses. Several searches came up empty. Just when I was starting to let my guard down I found a recluse at the foot of the bed. A boot summarily dispatched it to whatever afterlife toxic spiders attend.
Another was found in the bathroom, and another in the hallway. “Houston, we have a problem,” I said to Lori, and brought out the big gun—the canister vac.
We tossed furniture and upended chairs, stripped sheets and rummaged through the closet. A large recluse wandered in from the hall, no doubt wondering what the ruckus was about, and disappeared up the vacuum tube. Other spiders were sucked up as I ran the nozzle along the molding. In the process we came across two glue strips I’d set years ago. Both had dead mice stuck to them, with a cadre of spiders encircling the corpses as if intending to pick the bones clean. We set several new traps.
There’s nothing like a surfeit of creepy-crawly things to disturb one’s slumber. Surprisingly, my dreams weren’t of tiny legs scribbling across my face but of spacious rooms and distant stars. The night was cool; a slight breeze whispered through the grass. Katydids conversed like small stones clinking together. The foundations of Wijiji aligned with my tent, and through open vents I could dimly see a notch in the buttes where the rising sun would announce the solstice. My sleeping bag was cozy and warm.
When the alarm sounded, as I knew it would, I’d rise grousing and start another day. But for now Sirius rose in the east and I was elsewhere. Adventure does not come to us—we create it. Even here, on a small bed with a sagging mattress in an old house on the edge of the Flint Hills, beside the one I love.