We are diurnal animals, and when we stay active at night we create environments with lights and sounds that mimic daytime. Night, real dark night, is a parallel world, mostly unknown and often feared. The older I get the more I follow the sun. I get sleepy when the world is dark, and wakeful just before dawn. I sleep later and go to bed earlier in winter. When I wake up at night I sometimes stay awake and worry. Nighttime is worry time, and I can think of frightening things at 3 o’clock that seem trivial at 7:30.
As a child I was more scared of the dark inside the house than outside. Closets and under beds were especially spooky, but in a dark room any undefined shapes could be sinister. Outside, as told by Thornton W Burgess, was the world of benign night citizens, — Reddy Fox or Johnny Chuck and the like. Sometimes I would sneak out of bed and go out, believing that if I sat still and kept quiet for a long time these wild animals would show themselves and be my friends.
My house here on the island is surrounded by woods and wildlife. A few years ago, when I had left the back door open for my cats, I was awakened in the middle of the night by noise in the house. I was alone at the time, sleeping in the open loft, and I turned on some lights and crept carefully part way down the stair. I saw a parade of raccoons hurrying out of the laundry room where I keep cat food, through the living room and dining room towards the open door. There were a couple of large ones and some smaller youngsters. I felt they were not my friends, and I yelled, “get out of here!” They left, and I no longer leave my door open at night.
Sometimes the aid call whistle sounds form the fire department. It sounds automatically if someone on the island calls 911. In the night it’s always more ominous than in the day. One night at about 3 AM I heard the aid call and a few minutes later heard the helicopter. Later I learned that a woman on the mountain had had a fight with her boyfriend and shot herself. She died later in the hospital.
Often sounds get magnified at night, and distant police and ambulance sirens from the mainland reservation can be clearly heard. Jerry told me that the Alaska homestead he built in his youth was about a mile from a railroad track, but in winter on a clear night at 20 or 30 below, trains sounded as if they were coming through the living room.
Nights have their own sounds. In Alaska the 100 or so sled dogs that live on the properties across the road from ours sometimes sing. Starting with a few barks, they begin a long mournful wail, rising in pitch, ending as quickly as it started. I love the sound. When Linda, the owner of about 15 dogs, came back from fish camp her dogs took a few days to acclimatize to being at home and were especially vocal. They, in turn, kept up a chorus with the 55 dogs next door at Joee’s.
Here on the island I hear hoot owls in the woods and occasionally packs of coyotes yip. They seem to move, starting at a distance then coming closer, with high pitched barks and yaps and little soprano howls. Jerry and I wake up and listen. I think it sounds like hundreds of them, but I suppose it is really just a few.
I missed the dark in Alaska this summer. For almost 3 months it was never completely dark. I missed seeing the stars. Now we are back in the world of day and night. Jerry and I have been seeing Venus, the evening star every night when we walk the poodles. I don’t know many stars and constellations, but the big dipper and the north star are evident. I can identify Orion’s belt, and the Pleiades.
I have seen the Southern Cross. Three years ago, when I was only 73, my long time friend, Penny, and I went hiking in New Zealand. We back packed around the tip of the North Island, from part way up the Ninety Mile Beach to Cape Reinga. The second day of our tramp (NZ name for hiking) we camped on a grassy ledge a few feet up from the beach. We each had a one person tent. We were studying the map together in Penny’s tent when there was a sudden clap of thunder, and I reached my tent just as the deluge came.
As evening turned into night I lay on my sleeping bag and watched the rivulets of rain streaming down the translucent sides of the tent. When I awoke in the middle of the night, the rain had stopped, and I crawled out of the tent to have a pee. The sky was black and the stars were bright. In the southern Hemisphere there are fewer stars to be seen, but I saw the Southern Cross.
Night is half of life.