The small hours of the night: One am, two, three. Times when I should be sleeping. How many of the small hours have I spent awake over the course of my adult life? And to what end?
Time was, I woke early (~five am) and spent a quiet hour or so in journaling and prayer before the rest of the family began their day. That was deliberate, a discipline long-gone. But to be awake in the really small hours is usually undisciplined and unplanned. Sometimes, it is a fun and productive un-discipline. I’m so engrossed in a book that I read through the night. Or I’m rehearsing each word and whiteboard stroke of tomorrow’s lecture. Or I’m envisioning in minute detail each step of the weekend shop project—every measurement, every layout mark, every saw setup, every cut.
Other times, being awake in the small hours is annoying or worse. Still wide-eyed at three am and regretting that late afternoon caffeine. Waking in dry-mouthed, heart-pounding panic over a looming family crisis.
Mostly though, my small hours wakefulness comes after a nosebleed gets me out of bed. It’s a congenital condition, in my case not serious. But it wakes me most nights, and I cannot get back to sleep right away. So I sit up awhile, until the nose has settled down and sleepiness returns. Sometimes I read. Sometimes, like right now, I write. But frequently, I must confess, I waste the time. Computer solitaire is a particular vice. Confession, they say, is good for the soul. So there. I’ve confessed.
The story begins a year ago. While running some ethernet cable, I discovered a snakeskin above the drop ceiling of our laundry room. The laundry room is on the ground floor and the bedrooms are above, so the former occupant of that skin had been between floors in the living area of our house. Weeks later, Nancy noticed some distinctive deposits in the attic above our carport, identified by our local wildlife removal guy as snake scat. This attic is attached to the house, on the same level as our bedrooms, accessed at floor level from our master bath. A few days after that, she saw the snake in the flesh while rummaging through that attic. The wildlife guy searched and could not find the snake, found (and sealed) one and only one potential entry spot. He thought the snake was gone and that it had originally entered while trying to get to some baby wrens in a nest under our eaves. That nesting perch has since been removed. We spread some moth balls in the attic and above the drop ceiling to discourage the snake’s reentry and hoped that was the end of the story.
Apparently not. A few weeks ago, I saw a blacksnake moving toward our house from the woods behind us. I moved between it and the house, trying to scare it back into the woods, but it scooted past me within inches of my legs, disappearing under our deck. Why was it so determined to move toward the house? Nancy speculates that the dark and low space under the deck seemed safer than a retreat into the relatively open woods. Or that it was super hungry and the under-deck is a good hunting spot for chipmunks. I wonder if it has resided under the deck (or inside the house) since last year and was sprinting to the safety of “home.” Does a blacksnake even have a “home?”
What next? Do we buy more mothballs? Do we assume that if it comes into the house, it has good reason? E.G., mice? I guess I prefer a blacksnake to a mouse. And Nancy hates the smell of mothballs. So, with reservations, welcome back, Sneaky Snake. With apologies to Tom T. Hall, if you will keep us free of mice (and copperheads), you are welcome to all of our root beer.
I’m sitting outside on a pleasant spring afternoon. In the sheltered nook before our front door, I have brick underfoot and at my back, a black gum tree overhead, and the green of Nancy’s garden sloping above me. Native Mayapple and fern and Jack-in-the-pulpit, Joe Pye weed and cone flowers, wood sorrel and bellwort, foam flower, hosta, little brown jug, trillium and more form a lush foreground. And Mona, napping in my lap with with her head hanging over the armrest.
Nancy found Mona at the pound, a tiny black-with-white-accents mix of breeds with an intense desire to engage and please. She’s ten years old and 50 pounds now, but still a tiny thing in my mind.
Sometime in her first week with us, while I was eating breakfast and reading the paper, she kept asking for something. Twice I took her outside to pee, but that was not what she wanted. Finally, I paid attention and let her lead me to a pool of morning sun on the living room carpet. She curled into the warmth, inviting me to join her. Forget the unimportant stuff, she seemed to say; come enjoy the sunshine with me. Forget the doing, enjoy the being. Come to Sabbath.
She still calls me to Sabbath. As her presence on my lap attests, she craves companionship and touch. Almost daily, we sit together on the sofa for at least a short time, her head resting on my thigh. Not infrequently, she whines and nudges and prods until I take her onto my lap as now and hold her as I once did my children. She’ll nap with her head hanging over the arm of the chair until my own arms begin to fall asleep and I have to move her off my lap. We say she needs her loving cup filled.
Wouldn’t we humans be better off if we had the sense to recognize when our loving cups need filling, and the courage to ask for the communion and Sabbath rest our hearts desire?
Today, on an errand with Nancy, I made a turn one street too soon. Immediately, the Google Maps voice on her phone told me to turn around at the next left. But I was distracted. Distracted by my mistake and the police car nearby, but also by my surroundings.
I have always enjoyed exploring new roads. It’s like a cartoon from the ‘40s that perhaps I once saw or maybe just imagined. Picture it. An aerial view of an old jalopy rolling along a road. Mickey or Goofy at the wheel. In front of the car is only the outline of the road in a field of gray. Behind and to the sides of the car are green pastures and woodlands, colorful houses and scenery details. As the car rolls forward, so do the greenery and detail. That’s what a new road does for me. What was terra incognita gets filled in with colorful detail.
So I missed the turnaround. Nancy was patient; she knows (and shares) my exploring tendencies. A turn 100 yards too soon morphed into a four mile loop that took us from upscale suburbia through rural residential and then into the industrial backside of Knoxville. I filled in some more terra incognita. And it might be useful someday. For instance, if you need special sling rigging to move your nuclear reactor shielding, I can show you where to go.