In large part, I am a night owl because I like to be awake when others are not. I like to see other people sleeping, for one thing; there was that summer in Greece, for instance, when I could not sleep on our bus because I enjoyed watching everyone else lose consciousness. And I used to love to slip out of bed early when visiting my Chicagoan ex-boyfriend (before he was my ex-boyfriend, of course), so that I could be up and about while he was still gone to the world. I like to hear other people sleeping, having spent the nights of my teenage years reading novels and solving advanced trigonometry problems to the rough music of my family's snores. But I'll settle for knowing that others are sleeping, without actually experiencing their sleep sensorily.
Tonight, as if bidden, Orion appeared in my southern sky and beckoned me to leave the car in the driveway and walk back to the office after the television watching was over. The weather has been terrifically warm here today; this evening is something of a replay of those autumn nights just before the temperature dips low enough to chill. The moon is waxing, as well, so my shadow slipped along by my right side as I crunched down the road. When I came back out of the building a few hours later, the moon had wheeled to the southwest, and Orion had made his way westward as well. Orion was at my back the whole silent trek home, and the moon granted everything an impossible clarity--right down to the little orange dragon who's been sitting in a neighbor's yard for more than a month and whom I keep meaning to photograph.
To be a true flaneuse, I suppose I would need to be walking about in a street with others, or in a cityscape of some sort, lounging about a bit in the presence of strangers. But it suits me perfectly to be a solitary walker--and to be able to have my reveries without feeling exiled is to have the best of both worlds.
My senior year in high school, we read a story--and I was about to say I don't remember what it is, but then I realized that I actually sought out a copy of the short story anthology (West and Stallman's The Art of Modern Fiction) after I graduated from high school, so now I'm trying to find the story for you--yes, this is it. We read Katherine Mansfield's "The Daughters of the Late Colonel," and what I remember about the story is, as you may be coming to expect by now, a particular cast of light:
She remembered the times she had come in here, crept out of bed in her nightgown when the moon was full, and lain on the floor with her arms outstretched, as though she was crucified. Why? The big, pale moon had made her do it.... She remembered too how, whenever they were at the seaside, she had gone off by herself and got as close to the sea as she could, and sung something, something she had made up, while she gazed all over that restless water. There had been this other life, running out, bringing things in bags, getting things on approval, discussing them with [her sister], taking them back to get more things on approval, and arranging father's trays and trying not to annoy father. But it all seemed to have happened in a kind of tunnel. It wasn't real. It was only when she came out of the tunnel into the moonlight or by the sea or into a thunderstorm that she really felt herself. What did it mean? What did it all lead to? Now? Now?I will admit to having lain myself down on the living room floor in my parents' house, under the influence of this passage, when I was in high school and the moon was full. It's one of those passages that must have claimed its own particular place in my neural pathways; I think that the image of that young woman lying on the floor, in the moonlight, must have shaped the way I conceptualized every moonlit walk home I took in college. Now, having typed it in for you, I also wonder whether it shaped the way Virginia Woolf characterized both Mrs. Ramsay and Lily Briscoe in To the Lighthouse; Mansfield's story is copyrighted 1922, Woolf's novel 1927. But the strangest twist of all, to my mind: my allusion to Woolf's novel (which is my standby for allusions, yet another reason you should read it if you haven't already and you're planning to keep reading here) in the title of this post made itself the refrain of my walk home long before I started musing on other moonlights I have known, literary or otherwise. My Mechanischer Kopf works in ways I don't always understand. These kinds of sinuous-tenuous connections--the ones where causality matters so much less to me, at least for a moment, than sheer correlation--are the ones I love best.
On a night lit like this one last winter, I came into my second-floor study to pick up a book for bedtime. Because I knew where the book was, I didn't turn on the light. Looking down on my snowy, moon-silverblued yard, I saw a doe and two yearlings--the same ones, I felt sure, that I had watched growing up all summer--haunting my side of my neighbor's hedge. The doe and one of the yearlings passed along toward the backyard, but the other yearling stayed behind, chewing at low branches. Then, taking a few steps to her right, she suddenly, silently, reared up on her back legs and arched her neck to capture branches just out of her reach. I'd never seen a deer standing on its hind legs that way. She stayed suspended there for a few seconds, then ambled off to join the others.
Perhaps the great revelation never does come, but at least the small ones do.
(And you know I wanted a swell picture of deer in the moonlight to illustrate my last anecdote, but you try Google Imaging "deer moonlight" and see what you find. At least now I know where to get one of those shirts.)
source for today's image: REU program, N.A.Sharp/NOAO/AURA/NSF