This winter has been remarkably mild so far, and today is no exception to that observation. When my evening's multilingual, potluck conviviality let out, I parted from my friends, who were mostly driving home, and strolled down to town to check my mail at the post office and to stop off in the bookstore. Not much was happening in either the post office or the bookstore, to be sure; by 9 p.m. on a Saturday, students and faculty alike are generally elsewhere. After a little sojourn with a celebrity magazine or two (or, okay, three or four), I strolled off again--bearing my pie basket (containing tomorrow's breakfast) all the time, bien sur. Eventually, I made it down to my office, still strolling along, picking up bursts of conversation from the campus night, glimpsing silhouettes of men in suits heading northward, presumably for some kind of fraternity recruiting event.
As I swung out of central campus and headed to my office house, which perches on the edge of campus, just before our hilltop gives way to the plunge down to a state highway, I felt as though I were leaving yet another group behind, stripping myself away from more and more social layers until I was moving utterly solitarily through the dark, under the stars, crunching the gravel underfoot, carrying my basket. I had gone to the office to retrieve the book I'm teaching next week in my course on memory; fittingly, I have been unable, all week, to remember where this book is. Though it wasn't in my office, a student's recommendation letter form was, having been slipped under my door sometime since yesterday afternoon. Adding it to the pile of mail under my arm, I locked the office door and strolled back out into the darkness yet again. There's a kind of quiet here that I've found nowhere else I've lived; it's a quiet born of the fact that there simply isn't much, and aren't many, here, and this quiet breeds an inclination toward thinking, pondering, stretching oneself at odd moments. A half-mile of measured steps later, I was home, where the book turned out to be in the short stack next to my bed (where I suppose I must have finished off that particular syllabus) and where my various new resolutions and hopes all clustered in wait for me.
The quiet glory undergirding all this strolling (all these ordinary peregrinations, I should say, because nothing so remarkable happened anywhere along the walk) was simply that it is so mild, for January, that the night can't chill. Instead, it feels like hope itself, like possibility, like the spirit of endeavor. Nights like this, I wish I had a tower. Or at least part of me wishes for a tower; another part of me wishes to be half of the human element in this van Gogh painting--wishes for somebody who's elsewhere. Enveloping both wishes is a sort of penumbra of desire, itself strangely warm and pliable, ready (if I let it) to curl around me and bear me onward, even in the absence of what and whom I'm longing for.
source for tonight's image: iBiblio's van Gogh site.