Thursday, January 03, 2008

Falling night, fading sound, moon rising

Woke to a gray half-light, the couch below and a warm fleece blanket shrouding my face. Tentatively poking my head out to peer through the open blinds, I studied shattered trees latticed across a gunmetal sky. It wasn’t quite dark but near enough to make me queasy.

I’ve never been one to care for waking at such an inauspicious moment. What’s worse, it’s the second time in as many days. Something about regaining consciousness at dusk fills me with dread. I fear if I die at that ill-fated hour I’ll be forever cast out, forced to wander the world a disembodied wraith.

Curiously, I once felt the same about dawn. One morning after driving gritty-eyed across the city to pick up Lori after an all-night shift, I pulled into her workplace as the sun lifted above the flat eastern horizon. It glinted off the steel and glass megaliths of downtown Denver, making me wonder uneasily if I would burst into flame or melt into a viscous puddle as befell the Wicked Witch of the West. That I didn’t had little effect on my disquietude other than to destabilize it yet further, leading me to question if my demise was merely postponed a short while to keep me dangling on tenterhooks. None of it makes sense but we all have our personal superstitions. Some are just more conventional and organized, though certainly no more rational. We exist at the whim of the universe.

I threw off the blanket and roused my grumblous self. The room was cold and filling with shadows and altogether too quiet. The kitchen light improved my mood as would a pot of coffee, which I started. I took a carrot from the fridge and set it in Sheba’s special bowl, but hunkered down in a fluff of gray fur she barely glanced at it. This was her “quiet time,” as I call it, where she prefers aloofness to companionship. Her demeanor wasn’t surprising considering the hour but it rattled me further. I decided to skip supper in favor of a beer and a handful of chocolate chips, a repast slightly less fulfilling than beer and chocolate donuts.

The thought instantly triggered a craving for the one thing absent from our larder. Indulgence and prolonged gratification have been hallmarks since power was restored after last week’s ice storm but they can be taken only so far. Expense alone rules out any permanency, and anyway I’ve lost a few pounds and very much like the feel of a looser belt. If I had a box of chocolate donuts, preferably in a near-frozen state, I’d methodically wolf them down one by one until the container was empty. This wouldn’t help my waistline but it would assuredly take the edge off the early evening, which by any measure has merit.

Besides turning up the thermostat a few notches I’ve also been consuming more coffee. It took thirty minutes for the percolator to do its job on the kerosene heater but only a matter of minutes with electricity. Deprivation wakens us to the marvels of technology as nothing else can. Heat, current, a cold beer, light at the flick of a switch, all were unfathomable to primitive man, and dusk a time of haste before darkness imposed a kind of monastic seclusion. Now we run 24/7 and still I don’t have chocolate donuts. Humanity evolves apace yet is rife with these unavoidable glitches.

Outside, light bled away to a thin red smear lapping the horizon. As it shaded to charcoal a new luminance emerged, a pale aura emanating off the snowy fields. It lent an otherworldy ambiance to the falling night, a moonscape deepening my sense of solitude.

Since Sheba remained incommunicado, I turned on the stereo and selected some atmospheric tunes. From high school on, music has been crucial as a mood-setter. I wasn’t surprised at how much I missed it during the extended power outage but the longer I went without it the more desperate I became, until desire turned to lust whenever I saw Lori with her Nano. One time I snuck a listen and was transported beyond this shell into some farflung universe, but I didn’t remain there long because I wanted to preserve the battery for her.

The computer speakers being mediocre, I switched to my new iPod and twisted the earphones into my ears. The difference was breathtaking.

I’m transported to a stream bank, staring through a spotting scope at a slender buff bird imitating a cattail. It was a least bittern, rare in that part of Colorado, and I’d come looking for it with my gastroenterologist friend, Joe Roller. About the time we congratulated ourselves, a heavy crashing splintered the bucolic scene. Joe Tenbrink, a tall, hulking Frankenstein of a man, floundered through chest-high willows with the finesse of a rhino and boomed out, “Find it?” Shouting was his usual mode of speech, having lost most of his hearing during artillery barrages in WWII. He confided once that he could no longer hear birdsong and wondered which was worse, losing sight or hearing.

And now I’m succumbing to the same ailment.

Music now in my head, going places, the moon rising on a frozen Juganine Creek, on frozen steel tracks leading from nowhere to nowhere, on trees broken and resilient and ghostly and ghostly their shadows stretched thin and wan on snow and ice and on the frozen cold road rutted and half-melted and refrozen and colder still and the music warm as spring sunshine. Going places, up the stairs to the bookcase where I keep unread books, picking one to read, the iPod in hand, past the drawer with the old portable cassette player, that dinosaur, and I think, Joe, if only you could have lived to hear this, to have this miracle in your hand, the music in your head, the moon on the snow, the owl calling from the field, the music, what it does, where it takes you.

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