Night

By Elizabeth Craig-Olins

PROMPT — I am grateful for …

Canada is a small place for me. It’s not the vast country that hovers north of the entire U.S. border; it’s a cottage set on five acres of wooded, rocky terrain a hundred miles north of Ontario’s biggest city. It’s a modest cottage on a rocky hillside dominated by tall pines whose roots find a way to secure themselves above granite outcroppings left by the last ice age. When the sky is clear blue and the sun is hot, pine needles exude a sweet, acrid, pitchy scent that suddenly evokes memories that hover over the same rocks looking over the same bay of the same lake I’ve been to since I was five years old.  Now we must let it go. But I won’t think about that now. It’s a hot July night. A warm stillness wafts through the screened window as I try to sleep, but I can’t. Crickets are mocking me in rhythm as if they are chanting, 


this is sleep 

this is sleep 

this is sleep 

this is sleep 


Or maybe they are saying, 

do not sleep 

do not sleep 

do not sleep


It’s 4:00 am. I try to locate stars through the window, but pine and oak boughs, locked by years of proximity, have long since blocked the view. I get up, propelled by some unknown motivation, and step toward the door, grab a blanket to cover my shoulders, and move quietly through the darkened cottage. The door scritches open – too loud for the dark silence, but I slip out to the deck and breathe a humid freshness. The dew has settled. My feet find familiar footing over the rocks to the dock and look up to the sky. Millions of stars! The Milky Way is a spectacle! Now I understand why it is so named. It’s like a translucent blanket of spilled milk. And on either side, as the stars become more distant, they sparkle in the vast blackness. I wrap the blanket closer and lay down on the dock so I don’t have to crane my neck upward.  In the quiet darkness I hear a faint lapping of water against the underpinnings of the dock. A boat must have passed– too far away to be heard, because there isn’t enough breeze to cause a natural ripple. Turning my head again skyward, I catch the sheer silent arc of a shooting star and make a wish. Wishing on falling stars is tricky. Since light travels over six million miles per hour, and the stars are so many many millions of miles away, it isn’t really there when we see it – it has already expired. I’m really only seeing a memory of the star – a visual reminder of something that once was. Can you wish on something that isn’t really there? I know they are really meteoroids, but whoever wished on a meteoroid?  My head is feeling very hard on the wooden slats so I move to a flat rock at the water’s edge. From this perspective I notice, looking above the trees to the south-east, that the stars are fading. An almost imperceptible change is underway. Black will fade to gray. Stars will slowly lose definition until they disappear. I know dawn will come, but I am comforted by seeing proof. Sometimes I have this crazy thought: “what if it doesn’t?” And then I try to count the things we can truly count on, and the fact of the sun rising is right up there on the list. Sitting in the damp silence of the wee hours I feel I can wait forever – I want this to last – but that’s because I know it won’t. A slight hue of orange begins to insinuate the dark as it evaporates, leaving a lighter shade of darkness that slowly concedes to a pale yellow almost indistinguishable from a pale gray. The brightest star is losing its brilliance to the inevitable light of day. Slowly the tree line emerges. Slowly gray-yellow lightens and gives way to gray-blue. Pine boughs begin to assume definition. Shadows define branches. Silhouettes give over to shades of color. The sky behind me lightens.  A single bird announces the dawn with its call. Another answer. And suddenly not a few but a chorus of birds breaks the night code of silence the way the sun’s rays break into day. It is still early. The trees will keep the morning sun at bay for another two hours.  A mist is lifting off the surface as the warming air meets the chill of the water in a mystical glow. Bird calls are muffled. I break the stillness with a dive into the lake and swim through shadow until I reach the gold on the water. I turn on my back to feel the glow on my face and let the warmth penetrate my skin. I am touched by the sun.  Returning to shore with languorous strokes I hoist myself onto the dock refreshed, invigorated. A pair of sleepy, wistful eyes meet mine. My young son hands me a dry towel.

Elizabeth Craig-Olins is a teacher, writer, and photographer. She draws inspiration from the liminal spaces in time and place where transformation is evident: tidal fluctuations, the miracle of seeds, things that rust, journal entries, reflection. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts and Harpswell, Maine, where kayaking and gardening are her anchoring activities.  

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